HC Deb 19 July 1898 vol 62 cc299-301
MR. ASCROFT (Oldham)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Herr Schwabach, the British Consul appointed for Berlin, is a foreigner or a British subject, and whether he has passed any examination to show his fitness; whether in the appointment of British Consuls any con- sideration is given to the fact that they can exercise great influence on British trade; and whether the Government will undertake not to appoint any more Consuls except such as are British subjects able and willing to give every information and assistance for the extension of British commerce?


I am glad to have the opportunity offered me by the Question of my honourable Friend of removing what appears to be a widely-spread misconception both as to the appointment of British Consuls in general and of the Consul at Berlin in particular; and if I am somewhat long in doing so I hope that the House will pardon me. In the appointment of British Consuls attention is always paid to the fact that it is in their power to exercise much influence on British trade; and, in view of the ever-increasing commercial competition of the world, this is a consideration which the present Government, and I do not doubt equally their predecessors, have always borne in mind. But in a great many cases the time of British Consuls is far more occupied with shipping work than it is with trade; and it is not possible, and would not be desirable, for every Consul to devote the whole of his official time to the furtherance of British trade, in which there is still some opening left for private initiative and enterprise. It is with the object of assisting the Consul in this respect that the present Government have given considerable extension to the appointment of commercial attaches in foreign countries, Germany among the number. British subjects are invariably appointed to British Consulships where it is possible to do so consistently with the sums of money voted by Parliament for the purpose, and they are exclusively appointed to salaried consular posts. But there are many cases in which there are either no British subjects forthcoming, or no British subjects qualified for the purpose, in foreign cities or countries, where there may yet be considerable British trading interests, and in such cases unpaid consular or more often vice-consular functions are of necessity bestowed upon foreigners of influence and position. The same practice prevails with every foreign Government; many of the latter being represented by British subjects as their Consuls in the leading trade centres of this country; and it is an inevitable feature of every consular service in the world. I may, for instance, point out that out of 184 German consular officers in the British dominions, as many as 83 are British subjects. The services of such officials are gratuitously rendered, and their supersession in every case, as suggested by my honourable Friend, by persons of British extraction would involve an addition to the Consular Vote that no Government could recommend, and that would not be compensated by any corresponding efficiency in the service. Consequently I can give no such undertaking as is asked for in the Question, since it would be both extravagantly costly in operation and in many places quite impracticable. As regards the British Consulship at Berlin, recently filled by the appointment of Herr Schwabach, in succession to his father, that appointment was not made without a careful consideration of the advisability of the creation of a salaried post and the nomination to it of a British subject. On the one hand, however, the commercial work at Berlin has now devolved upon a commercial attaché who is of British nationality, and who was specially appointed for the purpose by the present Government more than a year ago. On the other hand, it was represented to us in the strongest terms by Her Majesty's Ambassador at Berlin that Herr Schwabach, who is a member of the great banking house of Bleichroder, was capable of rendering to Her Majesty's Government, as his predecessors in the same firm, who were consuls before him, had done, more valuable services than could be rendered by any British subject resident in Berlin. He was therefore appointed. In such a case, where the service is gratuitously given, no examination is required; and I think my honourable Friend will see that to suggest it would be in the highest degree invidious.