HC Deb 10 August 1896 vol 44 cc433-45

2. £237,318, to complete the sum for Diplomatic and Consular Services.


said he had to express, on behalf of the Chambers of Commerce, and the commercial public generally, the great obligations they were under to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and to Sir Henry Bergne and his staff for the energy they had thrown into the administration of the Department. Last year he was critical and suggestive, though appreciative, and drew attention to the necessity of more Attaches abroad, and he was glad to know that the number had been increased by six or seven for Europe and Asia. When the subject was raised last year they were told that the members of the Embassies ought to do this work, without adding to the staff. While they acknowledged the good will of the whole Diplomatic Service, and that they did a great deal for the commerce of the country, they considered that they had not the necessary training. This was a matter which should be in the hands of practical experts, and those who attended to these matters should be able to give experienced information to the traders of this country. He had urged that these Attaches should possess commercial qualifications and that it was essential that they should be what they ought to be—the heads of outposts and intelligence departments of British commerce in other countries. At the same time, he urged that they should still be increased in number, as had been done by Germany in the United States, and in the amount of remuneration. He thought it was said last year that the commercial classes in this country did not read the Consular Reports. He took that opportunity of saying that he had constantly impressed on their attention the vast importance of reading these Reports. They were mines of commercial information, and they owed a great debt of gratitude to the Consuls for this source of international commercial information, which now reached them quicker than hitherto. There was only one objection, and that arose from the very mass of the reports received in hundreds at one time. He thus found it almost impossible to go through them. He would express a hope that in addition to the index, which was an excellent one by Mr. Maycock, there should be a summary printed, for a great deal of the matter was of no general value at all, while other portions of it were of infinite benefit. Again, some of it should be grouped in juxtaposition with the cognate contents of other reports. He also urged last year that their Diplomatic Consular Service might render more active assistance to British traders. He knew of one case where they had been compelled to appeal to the Ambassador of a friendly Power, but he acknowledged much assistance from both the present and late Under Secretaries. In looking at the Estimates he was glad to see that there was an increase by a few thousands, especially for China and Japan. He also urged the importance of their interests in the far East, and congratulated the Government on the opening of the West river in China. That river, flowing into the China Sea from the districts of south-west China, formed an alternative route to Yunnan which was of great value, and better than the French routes by the Mekong or Red Rivers. This was a matter for great congratulation to this country and to the Government. They were just now receiving the most distinguished and progressive of Chinese Statesmen, who was most willing to extend our trade to that vast empire. He hoped he would take back with him the assurance of a reciprocal feeling, and that they would take care to ascertain the wants of the Chinese people, and give them goods which were most beneficial to them, and thus open and retain new fields and markets. He was glad to see that there had been an increase of their Consuls in China and Japan. There was, however, need for some revision, particularly with regard to Spain and Turkey, which were over-Consulled; and he urged that there should be an increase in France, Germany, the Balkans, the United States, and the Far East. And, our Consuls ought, wherever practicable, to be British subjects. He could not but be struck with the fact that there was not a single Consul in Venezuela, where we had so many difficulties, even at Caracas. He acknowledged the much greater co-operation and consultation of the Department with Chambers of Commerce, as was so much the case abroad, and, when referred to as to the revision of the Consular Regulations, as to the international exhibitions and other matters, the Chambers had gladly rendered the Government all the assistance in their power. He would like in this connection to acknowledge the useful State Paper issued from the Colonial Office. If through the Colonial Office we could ascertain what we could advantageously supply to the colonies, and how they could reciprocally deal with us, that mutual trade, whatever might or might not come of commercial union, could not fail to be beneficial to them and to ourselves. Already this had been followed out by patterns and samples being sent from the Foreign and Colonial Offices to the London Chamber of Commerce, stored for inspection, and circulated throughout the country, and which he hoped was the nucleus of a commercial museum—of which we ought to have more than one—such as existed at Brussels and other centres. At the Commercial Museum at Frankfort he had seen all the chief products of our Colonies exhibited, with prices, etc., for the guidance of German traders in their growing competition with us. Trade, with one exception, was undoubtedly better in this country, probably than it had been since 1890 or 1891. But statistics showed that not only relatively, but in some cases absolutely, there was a depreciation of British trades. There were certain facts which we could not disguise from ourselves. There was the fact that the foreign Governments gave subsidies to their steamship lines, that many of them gave bounties for the building of ships, and to the productions of their own countries, and there were other forms in which aid was rendered by Governments to their own trades. They had also to deal with the fact that hostile tariffs, whatever otherwise might be their effect, undoubtedly restricted our trade in dealing with those countries. These were difficult subjects to deal with, and he had not seen any very adequate remedies proposed so far. On the other hand we had great trade advantages. His own view was that the greatest of these was our Free Trade system. If we enjoyed nothing else from it we had favoured-nation treatment in all parts of the world, and he should be among the very last to propose a material departure from our present fiscal system. There was also the fact that we had accumulated capital; that we had great hereditary skill on the part of our workmen; that we had a climate which made this country the best workshop in the world, and that we had an organised system of communication which practically united us with the most distant parts of the world. But there were some things which did not depend upon legislation or fiscal systems, which our traders could do for themselves, and which he thought the Government of the country could legitimately and usefully aid them in doing. His experience told him that the aid could be of the very greatest advantage—although he did not say our traders should rely solely upon it, and should not continue that enterprise which had marked and made the commercial history of this country. One of the first things was that we should always get the earliest possible knowledge of what other nations were doing, and it was through our Diplomatic and Consular Services, the eyes as it were of the country, that we should best be able to obtain information of where we were being competed with; what were the causes of the competition, so far as it affected us; what new lines of action we might take, what new markets could be resorted to, and what possible developments might take place in our commerce throughout the world. He was by no means unfavourable to the suggestion made recently by an eminent Statesman that it might be well to appoint a small Commission for the purpose of dealing with that vast mass of our Consular and other special Reports, and putting the information into a form that would indicate what were the chief difficulties with which we had to deal, and what might be the best remedies for the purpose of overcoming them. In some other respects, information of vast advantage could be given to the traders of this country. He did not hesitate to say that in the scientific bases of many of our trades, we were becoming very greatly behind many other nations. They had only to refer to the Report made by the Iron Trades Delegation to Germany, in order to see that with regard to the newest processes and methods, there were some respects in which we had a great deal to learn. This pointed to the necessity for education, especially scientific and technical education, and he hoped we would obtain from our Consuls and from other sources much more detailed information of what had been done and was doing in other countries. It was wise to be taught by the enemy. The enemy could teach us a great deal that we ought to know. Notably, that in some of their manufacturing works the most skilled scientists were employed in much larger numbers than here, e.g., in one single one there were 67 Doctors of Science permanently at work, in another, near Mannheim, upwards of one hundred chemists; and that even now, as at the time of our Technical Commission, we were exporting refuse and other products to be treated scientifically in Germany and to be re-exported to us, instead of which we might, with bettor educational conditions, do the work here and give employment to our workpeople. The manufacture of glue was a case in point, and here happily, as with the aniline dyes, we were improving, but the Consuls told us of much we had still to grasp, both of facts and examples, and especially of the restrictive effect in our foreign trade of our obsolete and isolated system of weights and measures. But, while he invited in the very strongest terms the assistance of the State, which was able to render help of the most reliable character, and should be constantly on the alert for the benefit of the trade of the country, he hoped that lessons would be learned from the Consular Reports and otherwise, which would go to show traders the necessity of being themselves also on the alert, and the wisdom of being able, by a knowledge of the newest developments of science, to rapidly direct capital and interest from one branch of manufacture and workmanship into another. Thus the reduction of economic friction was one chief value of technical education, and our traders must also grasp the need of taking more trouble as to the package and preservation of their goods; of engaging educated commercial travellers; of business organisation and co-operation, especially, as in Denmark, in relation to agriculture, for this alone could redeem it from its depression, as he had urged years ago and often since, and in achieving and applying this knowledge for the people a highly effective Diplomatic and Consular service would prove itself the greatest blessing to the nation.


said the practical moral he had always drawn from the remarks of the hon. Member was that on the whole, in the past, the must important Consular posts of this country had not always been filled by the men most fitted to fill them. There was, perhaps, a tendency towards improvement in this respect, but still there were a great number of very important Consular posts filled by men who had not the knowledge of tongues and acquaintance with trade which enabled them to compete with scientific Consuls of the new type. There were two matters to which he desired to draw attention on this Vote. The Vote contained the salary of our principal officer on the Congo, and he should like to ask, without going into the question of the recent trial, whether it was possible to regain for British subjects throughout the Congo, the Consular jurisdiction which we temporarily gave up. The matter did not only concern the older Congo State. It also concerned the territory leased to the King of the Belgians by us. That territory adjoined our Uganda Protectorate. There was also the territory south-east of Katanja district, where the Congo State came in contact with our Central African possessions, and in both these districts there would undoubtedly be a good many British subjects, and a considerable amount of British trade. He believed that when we recognised the Congo State we surrendered our jurisdiction, and he wished to know whether that was done once for all and for all time, or whether circumstances might make it possible for us to revert to our original Consular jurisdiction in the Congo State. It would be remembered that, when the lease was granted to the Congo State, the Congo State guaranteed to us in return a strip of territory to the north and west of Tanganyika as a road. Germany caused the Congo State to denounce that treaty, and we did not obtain that road, and it was a question whether we should not, therefore, declare that that which we gave as compensation for this right we should now resume for ourselves. With regard to Korea, he asked whether the Russian sailors were still ashore on the peninsula, and whether Her Majesty's Government were engaged in any negotiations there, or whether they were treating the state of things in Korea as a matter to be settled between Russia, Japan, and China.


in reply, thanked his hon. Friend the Member for Islington for the generous tribute he had paid to the Foreign Office. He also thanked him for the aid which the great commercial associations of which he was the spokesman had always given to that Department. It seemed right there should be this frank and happy co-operation between the Government and those independent organisations—["hear, hear!"]—which from their constitution were well fitted to represent the commercial opinion of the country. With regard to the proper qualifications for commercial Attaches, no doubt they must be men competent by experience and capacity to handle commercial subjects, but the question of salary was also one of importance, not so much from the point of view of the individual as from the point of view of the public service. Now, in a great many foreign countries, commercial Attachés, to be of real use, must be men who were on good terms with Ministers, heads of Departments, and persons holding responsible positions, and with the heads of great commercial firms. For that kind of work men were wanted of certain social position, able to observe certain social amenities, and to sustain the credit attaching to them as British representatives in an adequate manner. More particularly was this the case in Germany and some other great countries on the Continent, and he would suggest to his hon. Friend that there were in reality involved in the work of a Commercial Attaché two separate classes of functions. There was, on the one hand, the duty imposed upon him to secure early and accurate information, to exercise whatever influence he legitimately could in favour of British commercial interests, and to prepare reports. That was a sort of work for which they required a very superior man occupying a good position. On the other hand, there was the work of more directly pushing British wares; and in this connection he might be permitted to suggest that much more might be done by commercial associations as well as by private firms in sending out to foreign countries men of that description. There was an increasing need for commercial travellers on the Continent—["hear, hear!"]—and in every part of the world. The State could not turn its commercial Attachés into commercial travellers. The latter were essentially the forerunners of private enterprise, and if his hon. Friend would use his great influence in pressing upon the Chambers for whom he so often spoke, the duty of sending out commercial travellers who knew the language as well as their business, he would add one more to the many services he had already rendered to British trade in this country. As to the question of reports, he quite felt that in many cases those commercial reports were too long. What they wanted was to get the information condensed and put in a businesslike form. Excerpts from the present commercial reports, however, appeared almost daily in the Press and attracted considerable attention, while, as regards matters in them which were liable to be overlooked, there was the Board of Trade Journal, which gave to commercial circles information of a very valuable character, put in a shape which was both concise and to the purpose. Stress had been laid upon the obligation that should lie upon British Consuls to assist British trade. On that point the instructions of the Foreign Office were definite and clear; but it was only fair to those gentlemen to remember that Great Britain being a shipping country to at least five or six times the extent of any other country in the world, the time and attention of our Consuls were enormously occupied by shipping matters. It was a little hard that a Consul at some great commercial port, whose whole time was taken up with consular duties, should be expected to bestow almost undivided attention on the commercial aspect of his duties also. That marked the great difference between a British Consul and a German or American Consul. ["Hear, hear!"] What had they to do in respect of shipping as compared with a British Consul? And whilst on the one hand it might sometimes happen that individul Consuls, oppressed with consular duties, showed an indifference to the commercial aspect of their work, on the other hand it sometimes occurred that commercial firms and individuals were a little exacting in supposing that the whole time of the Consul ought to be devoted to pushing their particular interests or supplying them with the information they desired. With regard to the better distribution of Consuls and the excess of Consular representation in parts of the world where their services were not required, he could only say that from his experience in the Foreign Office it was almost as difficult to abolish posts as to create them—[laughter]—and the Minister who undertook to reduce an establishment, however much in harmony such a course might be with the dictates of economy, would not make his lot a happy one. He thought, however, that the subject raised by the hon. Gentleman was well worthy of attention, and he should be happy to give it his attention. As to whether a Royal Commission was needed to inquire into British trade, he hesitated to give an opinion on the point, because Royal Commissions had too often been the means of shelving the questions they had been appointed to inquire into. This, of course, was not always the case, because they obtained the benefit of expert evidence; but supposing a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the alleged decline of British trade, and supposing they found that it was largely due to the fact that the working classes in foreign countries were compelled to work for longer hours and for lower wages, he did not think that this result would carry them one step forward in recovering the jeopardised position of this country. Our fiscal system was fixed; our labour system was constantly being modified in the interests of the workmen, and not in the direction which seemed to prevail in foreign countries. As to whether it was possible for the Government to recover the consular jurisdiction in the Congo Free State, which a few years ago had been surrendered, he had to tell the right hon. Baronet that he thought it was possible. The surrender was not once for all; but this was a matter to which he could not, without consultation with others, give a reply now, because the question must depend on our power of exercising the re-assumed responsibility, and also on the action of other Powers, as well as on general political considerations. As to Korea and the state of affairs there, it was true that a body of Russian sailors were still in Seoul, but their number had been considerably reduced. The King had not yet gone back to his palace, but efforts were being made to induce him to take that step. As soon as he could be provided with a guard in whom he could place reliance, the King might be persuaded to return. The Government were not engaged in any negotiations with regard to Korea. They had an interest in that country, but it was an interest secondary in character to that which directly neighbouring Powers must feel.

*MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

referred to allegations made in the newspapers with reference to one or two consular officials at Constantinople. One or two of these gentlemen, instead of occupying their time in commercial and shipping business, had sufficient time to devote to private commercial undertakings, which had caused comment in newspapers here as well as in the Levant. He should like to see our Consular Service above reproach to the same extent as our judiciary at home and abroad. He asked that these gentlemen should be asked to abstain from land and building society speculations—transactions which had involved them in a considerable amount of disrepute.


said the question had already occupied a great deal of their time at the Foreign Office, and he agreed that the scandals at Constantinople and squalid and disreputable dispute brought discredit on the Consular Court in that city. The matter had been in litigation for some time, and it was hoped to clear up the affair soon by sending out a Judge to settle the case and make a special report.

*MR. JOHN BRIGG (York, W.R., Keighley)

said that, though the Consular Reports fell into the hands of different Chambers of Commerce, the members felt that they were not in sufficiently close connection with the Foreign Office. He thought that if the Foreign Office could offer some inducement to the Chambers of Commerce to take up the question of asking from the Consuls more details of the different trades, and to form deputations to send abroad to inquire into the causes from which trades were suffering, something valuable might be achieved. Commercial and manufacturing men wanted to know the qualities and more details of the kinds of goods sent abroad by our foreign competitors; and the Foreign Office might give access to the Consuls in the various ports and help the deputations to obtain information on arrival at the different places. If out-of-pocket expenses could also be paid the reports obtained might be made public property for the benefit of all.


said that the Blackburn Chamber of Commerce had itself very liberally organised an expedition to make investigations in Western China and Yunnan. The Foreign Office, he was glad to say, had been able to do a good deal to assist them. The Department had given introductions to the gentlemen selected for the mission, and a British Consul had been specially detached to act as cicerone to the party. The presence of that official afforded an almost certain guarantee of the success of the mission. The Foreign Office could not undertake to pay the expenses of missions of this kind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be likely to view any undertaking of that kind with approval.


asked that Members should be supplied with the reports on the trade of foreign countries as soon as the press. At present these reports appeared in the newspapers at least three or four weeks before they got into the hands of Members of Pariliament.


said that the right hon. Baronet could assure his constituents that the Queen's printers would be pleased, for a very small sum, to supply them with the reports which they wanted.

Vote agreed to.

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