§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £277,570, be granted to His 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, 1903, for the expenses in connection with His Majesty's Embassies, Missions, and Consular Establishments Abroad, and other Expenditure chargeable to the Consular Vote."
§ (4.28.) SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
said that on a former occasion on the Diplomatic and Consular Vote he had tried to resume the discussion interrupted on the Foreign Office Vote, and draw attention to the question of the relation which ought to be maintained between the diplomatic and consular service on the one hand, and the commerce of the country on the other. He thought that a comparison between the condition of affairs in this and other countries led one to the conclusion that both in diplomacy and consular action the promotion of commerce took a much more direct and important part in foreign than in our own service. At the same time, he was glad to acknowledge that he had frequently heard diplomatists state that one of the duties of the representatives of this country was to, have regard to its commerce, and to promote good commercial relations between the country which they represented and the countries to which they were accredited. He knew that in many instances our representatives had done their best to promote British commercial progress. From that point of view the consular service was perhaps of even more importance than the diplomatic service; and he could not help saying that in that branch there was a greater disparity between our own and other countries. That might be due to the fact that in foreign countries the consular service was more organised commerically, and was certainly dealt with on a footing which was not general in our own country. For instance, in the case of France, he found that not 280 only was there a course of education in the higher, commercial schools and colleges particularly adapted to the training of consuls, but there was a gradation in the consular ranks, which led to the higher branches of the service. Young men commenced as cadets and ultimately, after a severe course of training, took a high position in the consular service. Therefore, it was eminently desirable that our consuls, though they had other duties to perform—and that, after all, reduced itself to a question of salary—ought to be the out-posts of British commerce, and the Intelligence Department available for the help of our commercial people. Now, the system of the appointment to the consular service was very different in this country from that which obtained in any other country. It was mainly a system of patronage, which was difficult to defend. Of course it was impossible to imagine that that system could be abused by such statesmen as Lord Salisbury or Lord Rosebery; but the expression made use of on the occasion of the last debate by the noble lord the Under Secretary with reference to the reward of men who had served the country in distant parts of the world showed that it was a system which was advisedly not only adhered to, but put in practice in certain cases. The noble Lord said they had to provide for those who had done service to the State in such undeveloped countries as Africa. It was perfectly true that such parsons were entitled to recognition, but he did not think the reward of gentlemen of that class was, as a rule, properly carried out when they were put into consular posts. It must end in a large measure in putting square men in round holes, and although their service was ripe for reward he did not think the reward should take the form of positions for which these gentlemen were not trained. He admitted that there had been considerable improvement in our diplomatic consular service, and that the increase in the number of commercial attachés was beneficial, although there was room for more, and there were one or two places where at present there were no attachés, but where their presence was desirable. Though that was so, he believed the attaches who had been appointed had 281 rendered real service. Consular agents also had recently been appointed, and their visits here to a number of Chambers of Commerce to confer with those directly interested in commerce was a desirable step, and he desired to acknowledge it. He thought there was some need for a larger representation of our commerce in the colonies, and appointments made in that direction in some of the larger colonies would be most desirable. Recognition was also due to the Foreign Office for the improvements made in the regulations relating to consular duties; nevertheless, he thought there was room now for greater expansion in that direction. Having regard to the steps which had been taken by foreign countries to make their consular service as useful as possible to the commerce of their countries, we certainly ought, at all events, to watch, if we were not able to follow in their footsteps, although we could follow to a considerable extent. The action of the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office in securing recognition for colonial demands was a great step in the right direction. Having made those acknowledgments, there were one or two points on which he desired to make some observations of a somewhat different character. Complaint had been made that consuls were not sufficiently familiar as a rule with the language of the countries in which they represented us. He was informed that in Russia there were not more than six who wore able to converse in the language of that country. In other years it was not so important to know Russian, a knowledge of French and German being quite sufficient for consuls in that country, but owing to the development of the interior it had become absolutely necessary to be able to converse in the Russian language. Exception had also been taken to the large number of foreigners who represented this country in consular offices. That was a matter it was not, perhaps, always possible to avoid; there were exceptional cases in which persons of influence among men of business abroad might make the best representatives. But as a general rule our own countrymen were the best representatives of our own country. There were a considerable number of foreigners representing us in Switzerland, for instance. 282 Of course it might be a question of salary, and after looking through the list some of the salaries did appear to him to be most inadequate. Then with regard to the consular reports. Some were most excellent, as witness the report of the Consul at Stettin, which was only a sample of many others which might be cited, but one bad only to read some of the more meagre to see how inadequate they were. If comparison were made between the speed of publication of our consular reports and those of other countries, especially the United States, the comparison would not be to our advantage, and in these days, when time was money and despatch meant business, publication almost contemporaneous with the course of events was necessary to give the reports any value at all. One point in which we were excelled by the United States was in the publication of special reports in connection with sudden developments of new or special branches of industry. On such occasions it was impossible to wait for the annual report, and it was then important that we should have special reports; and in comparison with those of the United States, the special reports of this country were very few. He had given, he thought, reasonable and proper praise for the work which had been effected, but on the other hand he would suggest that there was still room for improvement, and he hoped the noble Lord would reconsider the propriety of placing gentlemen who had done admirable service in savage and undeveloped countries in the position of consular agents, where they had to deal with cute business men. He hoped some other mode would be adopted of rewarding them. The reforms to be carried out by the Foreign Office might not be such as he had ventured to suggest in detail, but reform was certainly required, and he thought that nothing would be effected until there was a great reorganisation in the Departments dealing with the consular work. He heard demands made for a Minister of Commerce. He himself was content to accept the President of the Board of Trade as the Minister of Commerce; but trade matters, he thought, ought to be dealt with by one Minister, who should be responsible to Parliament. 283 At present, there seemed to be a great want of organisation in dealing with these matters; the Board of Trade represented trade interests in general; the Foreign Office managed foreign affairs and the consular service; and in addition there was the representation of the Colonies, and India, and the like. Let him take an illustration. He was a member of the Commercial Intelligence Department of the Board of Trade, and the work of that Department had been done as well as the resources would permit. Steps had been taken to ascertain the state of trade in Persia, Siberia, and other places, but to show the bodies with which they had to deal it was only necessary to look at the constitution of that Department. It was a Department of the Board of Trade, and in it there were representatives of the Foreign Office, commercial side; of the India Office, of the Board of Trade itself, of the Colonial Office, and others. They did excellent work, but he felt that that organisation was not a proper one when there were so many different Departments to consult and take into account. He thought the responsibility and management of commercial matters should be placed in the hands of one Department, and the head of that Department should be the Minister of Commerce in this country. He wished to say one word on the subject introduced by his right hon. friend in the most able speech which he had delivered in relation to the Diplomatic Vote. When it was sought to discuss commercial matters on that Vote, the Chairman ruled that it was out of order to do so, but he thought he was in order in saying that he could express the fullest concurrence of the commercial community in what was then said, that the difficulties which arose between us and other countries should be disposed of before they became the source of acute difficulty to this country. He referred particularly to the desirability of finding an amicable solution of the New found land difficulty with France. Public opinion in France was directed to the same end, and our interest pointed in the direction of establishing the best relations with France and Russia. Consular representation should be made as commercial as possible, and we should 284 be then placed in more close relations with those actually engaged in commerce. That consultation of those directly interested in the trade and commerce of the country would be useful to diplomacy was shown by the fact that the opinion of the Chambers of Commerce was adverse to the taking of Wei-Hai-Wei, and favourable as an alternative to the choice of Chusan or some position nearer to the Yang-tsze than Wei-Hai-Wei. He impressed upon the Foreign Office the fact that they had in their care commercial duties of the highest character, and he hoped the matters to which he had drawn attention would receive the consideration of the noble Lord.
§ MR. BRIGG
, speaking as a Member who took great interest in this matter, and who took care that consular reports were distributed amongst those most likely to read them, thought he might be permitted to say a few words upon this Vote. He was not in entire agreement with all his hon. friend had said, and he desired to point out the difficulty in which the Foreign Office was placed in collecting that information which was valuable to the manufacturers of this country. It was not so essential for the consular agents to send over the number of ships carrying merchandise as to send over a classification of the goods used. The method in which the information was supplied could, he thought, be improved. In the first place, any information with regard to railway and other charges on the Continent might be supplied in such a form that it could be most useful, and the amounts might be given in English money, and if in other matters the English equivalent for foreign weights and measures was given, the information would be much more useful and the Returns of much more value. This should be no trouble to our consular agents.
(4.54.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES
sympathised with the references made to the Consular service, and thought there could be no doubt but that the Foreign Office had looked with disfavour on researches of a consular character. The consul abroad was originally senior British merchant in the place of his appointment. For years past he had been 285 something very different—a retired officer, who perhaps might be a most deserving person, but who was often not thoroughly competent to deal with commercial interests. An overhauling of the consular service was required, but he thought it must still remain under the Foreign Office. But the Foreign Office should realise that it was the Foreign Office of a commercial country. As to the consular reports themselves, the Committee could scarcely realise the incapacity shown by the Foreign Office in elementary matters of business. He complained that the consular reports often did not show clearly from whom they came and the year to which they referred. For example, a report in his hand purporting to deal with the trade of Lorenzo Marques for 1900 contained accounts for 1899, 1900, and 1901. It was the report of a consul-general—where, he was not told. The expression "this year's census" occurred in the report, but what year was meant he did not know. It was painful to find the Foreign Office betraying such a want of knowledge of commercial affairs, and he hoped the Department would realise the importance of attaching to consular statements the date when written, and the writer's name. As to ambassadors, the rules for their election appeared to be very vague, and the Committee had little opportunity of gathering any account of their demeanour, or of estimating the amount of success due to their personal influence and tact. Ambassadors had one advantage over Ministers, viz., that they were compulsorily retired at the age of seventy. He would commend that rule to the right hon. Gentleman who was now forming an Administration, because it might very well be applied to other Departments. If an ambassador was too old properly to discharge his duties at seventy, a Lord Chancellor was not too young to retire at seventy-six. On the general duties of ambassadors, he was by no means satisfied with the ambassadorial work of recent years. Its effect had been the alienation of Persia and Turkey; Persia had been thrown into the arms of Russia without any agreement having been come to, and there was the undoubted fact, referred to by the right hon. Baronet on a previous 286 occasion, of a considerable change in the attitude of Italy towards this country. He was sorry to say that he believed that change of attitude was entirely due to our Ambassador at Rome. Lord Currie had been pushed on with great assiduity in the diplomatic service, but the rapidity of his promotion was not warranted by his diplomatic achievements. Certainly in Constantinople Lord Currie managed to make himself extremely disagreeable to the Powers, and in consequence England lost advantages she might otherwise have gained, and things contrary to her interest, which might have been prevented, had been carried into effect. On the whole Lord Currie could not be considered to have been a decided success at Constantinople. He went to that post in 1894, in 1898 he was translated to Rome, where his career had not been attended with any greater success. He believed he was right in saying—but on this point the Under Secretary of State would correct him if he was wrong — that so disagreeable had been the demeanour of this Ambassador at the Court of Italy that positively a request had been addressed to the Foreign Office for his recall. If that was the case, and he was informed on excellent authority that it was so, a great responsibility rested upon the Foreign Office for keeping him there. But whether that were true or not, the mission of Lord Currie to Rome had not been the brilliant success that might have been expected from the rapid promotion of which he had been the subject, and he believed he was justified in saying that the change in the attitude of Italy was very largely due to the non-success of his diplomatic efforts. He was perfectly aware that there might have been great difficulties and extenuating circumstances, and to ensure an answer on this matter he moved to reduce the Vote by £1,000.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £276,570, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)
§ MR. YOXALL
asked for information as to the present condition of matters relating to the British Consulate at 287 Odessa. A complaint had been made of the removal of the Consulate from the commercial part of the city to the vicinity of the tennis grounds. It was alleged by those who knew that too many of our consuls abroad neglected their proper duties for other considerations, and the removal of the Consulate from the commercial quarter of Odessa was merely typical of a general defect in the consular system. In this particular instance it caused a great deal of inconvenience, additional expense, and loss of time to British shipmasters. Upon making representations to the Foreign Office he received a letter promising something in the nature of redress, and he desired to know whether that promise had been carried out. He agreed to a large extent with the remarks of the hon. Member for King's Lynn on the question of the consular service generally. Great improvements were necessary, not only in regard to the number of consular officers, but also as to their location, authority and nationality. We employed nearly 1,000 consular servants who were not of British nationality at all, and these persons came into contact with official secrets, and with matters referring to British Imperial interests in what seemed to him to be a very loose and unsafe way. He did not suggest that it was impossible for a foreigner to be a faithful servant of the British Crown, but he did suggest that when British born subjects were scattered all over the world, it would be worth the while of the Foreign Office to take some pains to secure as consular agents in remote places British born persons, instead of appointing men of foreign extraction The present State of affairs was very much the result of the desire of the Foreign Office to run the service on the cheapest possible basis. By the employment of unpaid consular agents the service worked out at a cost of about £19 per man per year, whereas in the Diplomatic Service the cost per man per year was something like £1,700. He thought it might be well to spend a little less than £1,700 per man on the Diplomatic Service, and a little more than £19 per man on the Consular Service, which was naturally more extensive, had representatives in many more places, and had to do with very important British interests— 288 particularly those relating to British trade, it was a mistake of organisation that the Consular Service should be under the Foreign Office at all. So long as British consuls were expected to deal with matters of trade, he thought that, where-ever possible, men acquainted with commerce, and formerly engaged in trade, should be appointed. Since, however, they had also to do with diplomatic work, he thought they might, perhaps, criticise the way in which the Foreign Office had of recent years withdrawn some of the consular officers from quarters in which eyes and ears for this country were particularly necessary, as, for example, had been done in Asia Minor and Morocco. Whether the Committee considered the location of the consular agents, or their nationality, or the way in which, in order to save expense, unpaid agents were employed, and it was rendered impossible for the Foreign Office properly to check their work, at every point it would be found that the Consular Service required revision, amendment, and improvement, and he would be heartily glad to learn that something in that direction was being done. He was glad to learn that on two points, at any rate, improvement had been effected—viz. in the appointment of commercial agents at Zurich, and in the abandonment of fees to British subjects who sought trade advice.
§ (5.15.) MR. MOON (St. Pancras, N.)
agreed with what had been said as to the importance of our consuls knowing the language of the country to which they were appointed. The reputation gained by Sir William White in the early days of his career was largely due to his mastery of the vernaculars in different parts of the south-east of Europe, because, from a diplomatic point of view, he obtained a great deal of useful information. But the duties of the, consuls who had been spoken of were, of a very different character. With regard to Odessa he noticed that the salary was a large one, the amount being £900 a year, with an allowance of £450 for office expenses, and there was also a vice-consul at £300. To carry out what the hon. Member for South Islington had suggested, would require a special Russian Consular Service, on the footing of the China, Japan, and Siam services. He had several times tried to master the Russian language, and though he had succeeded in many other languages 289 he had not succeeded with Russian. He was sure that the time required to acquire the Russian language would necessitate special training. There were both redundances and deficiencies in the Foreign Office Vote. The absence of a British representative at Bolivia had already been referred to. If we needed a representative there in the '40's, surely there was more need for one now than sixty years ago, with all our great increase in trade. He was in the capital of Bolivia last August, and he knew that this country had a very considerable trade there in minerals and rubber. The rubber grown there was said to be quite equal to that grown near the mouth of the Amazon. He noticed that nearly £2,000 was spent at Munich, and he did not think it would be too much to spend £500 or £600 at Bolivia, where there were already about 200 Englishmen. In the case of a firm in Bolivia composed of an Englishman and a German, their dispute had to be settled by the German representatives, because there was no British Consul there. That state of things involved a loss of prestige to Britishers there. Before leaving South America, he wished to impress upon his noble friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, the necessity of watching very carefully the way in which the authorities of the Argentine Republic followed up what seemed to be an exceedingly brutal murder which occurred, not in a very remote part of the Argentine, but in a fairly central region. A young Englishman was charged upon some frivolous pretext, and was wounded with a pistol by a police officer, and the wound proved to be a mortal one. The Argentine Republic was a set of States in which the Federal principle was highly developed, and the provincial governments had a very free hand and did not always treat matters in a European manner. He wished to have the views of His Majesty's Government pressed upon the central government. The hon. Member for King's Lynn seemed to have been very unfortunate in regard to these consular reports, for a great many of them appeared to him to be exceedingly useful. Those reports went to show that English merchants did not get foreign markets because they did not publish their catalogues in the vernacular, and would not get the weights and 290 measures and prices of foreign countries. Again, no steps were taken to produce the article required, and our merchants continued to send out the same article time after time. Whether anybody except theoretical people read these reports he did not know, but as soon as a merchant heard of anything good, he did not wait for the report of the Foreign Office. With regards to this country being represented abroad by foreigners, Lord Curzon, when he represented the Foreign Office in this House, said that that was practically the universal custom. He thought the hardship alleged would have to be much more strongly made out before any such drastic steps as those suggested could be taken.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said that he understood that sometimes a subordinate member of the consular staff was a foreigner, but he thought the idea of the Foreign Office was, that so far as they could do it, they got men of British nationality in the consular service. There was a case in Berlin some time ago, where this country appointed the banker of Prince Bismarck, and it struck him at that time that a man more unfit to represent British interests in Germany could not be found than Prince Bismarck's banker. His hon. friend said they had no consuls in Morocco and Asia Minor. Our consuls there used to be military consuls, not intended to look after commercial interests, but to watch and guard us against Russian aggression. There was no good object served by having a commercial consul in places where they had no trade, or only a very small amount, as was the case with Morocco and Asia Minor. He was very glad that his hon. friend opposite had raised this question, because it was a most important one. He was what was called a little Englander. He was opposed to the wild and reckless militarism which, at present, was in favour with hon. Gentlemen opposite, and with some on this side of the House. He was a strong advocate of large expenditure being undertaken by the Government for the spreading and looking after of our commerce, but he did not think, considering what we spent on our Army and Navy, we spent a sufficient amount on our consular service. The 291 primary mistake in connection with the consular service, was that it was not made a profession. What happened was that Ministers — he was not speaking particularly of Ministers at present on the Treasury Bench—who did not know what to do with a tenth cousin, or hanger-on, tried to get him appointed as a consul. That person was a decent, respectable man; he did not offend or lower the dignity of the British Empire, but, unfortunately, he knew nothing about commerce. The hon. Member had come across consuls who were charming men; he knew nothing personally against them, but certainly no country would think of having these men as commercial agents. They could not write reports, but they went to some merchant, perhaps their tailor or somebody, and asked him to write a report. They signed it, and sent it home. These reports were, in many cases, not worth the paper they were written on. Some of the reports were very good, but many of them were very poor. Those men had no commercial education. The Foreign Office must recognise that this must be made a profession. They must take young men who had passed an examination, and put them as pupils in divers Consulates, giving them a small salary. Then, according to their fitness for the work they could be promoted to be vice-consuls, consuls, and consuls-general with larger salaries. Our consular service in the matter of commercial intelligence was below that of France. He could not agree with his hon. friend opposite that the consular service should be put under the Board of Trade, and separated from the Foreign Office. The negotiations with foreign countries would not be put in the hands of the Board of Trade; they would be carried on by the Foreign Office. But they might attach more importance to the commercial department of the Foreign Office. They ought to have a very good man at the head of it, and he should look well after the consuls and the staff, and there should not be this tenth-cousin system of appointment. The reports received from the consuls should be sent to the Board of Trade, and if necessary communicated by the Foreign Office to the great towns and the commercial agencies in the United Kingdom. Then, he thought, we should have a much better service than at the present time. 292 The hon. Member for King's Lynn complained of the policy of His Majesty's Government in Italy, and stated that it had led to the friendly feeling which used to exist between the two countries being considerably weakened. In that he entirely agreed with his hon. friend, but he went on to say that Lord Currie was absolutely responsible for this.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Well, that Lord Currie was in part responsible. Lord Currie had to obey orders in Italy. His hon. friend said that the Italian Government had made application that His Majesty's Government should withdraw Lord Currie. He was very curious to hear whether that was a fact.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The noble Lord said it was not a fact. If Lord Currie, or any other person, made himself politically or socially disagreeable to the Government in the place where he resided, and that Government asked that the gentleman should be changed, he could perfectly understand that it would be wise on the part of His Majesty's Government to listen to that demand, and to put him in some other place. But he gathered that that was not the case in Rome. He thought it was hardly fair that his hon. friend should make the general railing accusation he had made against Lord Currie without giving the Committee chapter and verse. His hon. friend had said that Lord Currie's promotion was exceedingly quick. He had been in the Foreign Office for the last forty years, and rose gradually until he became Assistant Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He had been sufficiently long in what might be called the diplomatic service to entitle him to become an ambassador. The late Lord Pauncefote was very much in the same position as Lord Currie, and he made an excellent ambassador, who rendered valuable service to the country. He did not think it was fair of his hon. friend to suggest that Lord Currie had been 293 pitch-forked into the position of ambassador in order to throw upon him the blame for what possibly the Foreign Office was responsible, unless he could show, chapter and verse, that he had bungled his instructions, or done something personally to produce ill-feeling between Italy and England, irrespective of the policy which was pursued by the Foreign Office.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said his remarks had been based on information given to him, from a source which he could scarcely have doubted, that the Court of Rome had absolutely requested the Foreign Office in London to recall Lord Currie; but if the noble Lord denied that, of course a large part of his argument fell to the ground.
THE MASTER OF ELIBANK (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
asked whether, in view of the increasing importance of Vladivostok, the Foreign Office would not follow the example already set by Germany, and appoint a consul for that district.
§ (5.40.) LORD CRANBORNE
said they were quite alive to the importance of representation at Vladivostok. Germany had nothing quite so important as a consular agent there; they had, however, a commercial agent, which was, perhaps, a humbler form of the same article. No doubt it would be very much to the advantage of this country if we had a similar representative, and the matter was under consideration. The greater part of the debate had turned on the consular service, but some reference to the diplomatic service had been interposed. His hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn, with the passion for condemnation that always pursued him, had condemned the whole diplomatic service of the Empire as inefficient.
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
said the ambassadors only shared the condemnation with the Government. He did not believe he had ever heard a single word of approval, either of his political friends, or of the public servants, from his hon. friend. He certainly should not 294 subscribe to his condemnation of our ambassadors. He thought his hon. friend was very properly answered by the hon. Member for Northampton. In attacking Lord Currie, he took no account of the policy that ambassadors had to pursue. It did not follow because an ambassador had not always been on good terms with the Court to which he was accredited that, therefore, it was the fault of the ambassador. An ambassador was a confidential person who carried out the instructions he received, and, if that occasionally brought him into conflict with the Court to which he was accredited, it only meant that he was a faithful servant in the discharge of his country's interests. For his part he had never heard that there was any unpopularity attaching to our ambassadors at St. Petersburg, Paris, or Berlin. What, then, became of his hon. friend's general condemnation?
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he did not say a word about the ambassadors at St. Petersburg or Berlin. The only general reference he had made was as to the unfortunate result of recent Foreign Office policy in Turkey, Persia, Spain, and France.
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
said, on the contrary, his hon. friend attributed unfortunate results to the incapacity of the British representatives.
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
said he need only appeal to the record which must inevitably appear to prove that that was the case. The hon. Gentleman was quite entitled to attack the Government; he always did. But he left it to the Committee to say whether he was not wrong in first attacking the diplomatic representatives of this country throughout the world, and then attempting to explain it away by saying that what he really condemned was the policy of the Government. He did not share the hon. Member's views. Our ambassadors were placed in an especially difficult position, because this, being a world-wide Empire, we were brought into conflict, to some extent, with the interests of nearly every country in the world. He did not mean 295 to say that they were uniformly in conflict, but there were points and elements about the policy of this country which were in conflict with the interests of nearly every foreign country. Our interests, therefore, must be represented by our diplomatic representatives, and it was not surprising that on occasions they were not absolutely upon as good terms as he believed generally characterised their position. In regard to other countries, one of the difficulties which our policy had to encounter was that we were essentially non-aggressive in our policy; and the barbarous, or he meant rather the less civilised, countries were naturally enough strongly impressed with the influence and importance of Great Britain in the councils of the world. Notwithstanding the fact that our policy was non-aggressive and all for the maintenance of the status quo, we were able to exercise a great influence on the less civilised parts of the world. Reference had been made by his hon. friend to Lord Currie. This ambassador had been a very distinguished public servant for many years. He served his time in the Foreign Office, and rose to be the Principal Permanent Undersecretary of the Foreign Office. In that capacity Lord Currie had earned the greatest credit to himself, and had conducted the affairs of the Foreign Office in a way which was beyond reproach. After this he was promoted to be an ambassador. As had already been pointed out, exactly the same course had been pursued in the case of Lord Pauncefote; and now the hon. Member attacked Lord Currie as an ambassador. What had been his recent history? He ventured to say there was no country in Europe with whom we had worked on such cordial terms as Italy at this moment. Not only in Europe, but in Africa, many questions of great difficulty and delicacy arose between the British and the Italian Governments along the north-east coast of Africa. We had worked hand in hand in Somaliland. All the difficulties there of late which had been considerable, had been conducted without any friction whatever between ourselves and the Italian Government. The same thing could be said of the Sudan frontier; and he had occasion a few days ago 296 to explain to the Committee that the recent difficulties with regard to Malta and Tripoli had been admirably solved. Were we to deprive our ambassadors abroad of the credit of this state of things? Was it fair of his hon. friend to gibbet Lord Currie as an incompetent ambassador when he had to his credit the solution of these several questions, and the smooth working of the international relations between this country and Italy? It was not fair; and the hon. Member ought to give Lord Currie the credit, which was his due, of having conducted to a successful conclusion these difficult matters which he had mentioned. As far as he was able to judge, our representatives in the diplomatic service were at least as good as those of any other country in the world, and we had no cause to be ashamed of them. They were quite ready in diplomacy to take account of commercial interests. The Foreign Office was in constant communication, for example, in regard to Chinese questions, with the commercial interests of this country. Perpetual communications were passing between ourselves and the China merchants in London, and those interested in the China trade and the Chinese question. Although he fully recognised that in modern times the consular service required to take special account of commercial considerations, he could not honestly say that there was an enthusiastic opinion on the subject among the best trading interests in this country. If the leading traders and manufacturers were asked whether they required assistance from our Consular agents, they almost invariably said "No; we mind our own business; we understand it twenty times better than your consuls; we have our own representatives, and this is part of the enterprise in which we are engaged." Though he recognised that they must do all they could in respect of the consular service, a word of caution was not out of place in pointing out that this was not the view of a part of the best trading interests of this country. He regretted that the hon. Member opposite had not given him notice as to the subject of Odessa, but he would make inquiries on the subject of the Consulate. With regard to Bolivia he could not subscribe to 297 the statement that our trade with that country was a large one. There was, however, a great deal to be said for the necessity of commercial representation. As to the promotion of Protectorate officials, he was afraid that something he said the other day had been misunderstood. He did not mean for a moment to say that our consular service ought to be entirely recruited from the administrators in our East Africa Protectorate. Not at all; but he repeated that it was not unfair that the administrators, who were able men, should look to some kind of reward where opportunity offered, consistently with the public service, in being removed, if they had done yeoman's work in those protectorates, to conditions more comfortable and constituting some kind of reward for their years of toil. They always gave a preference to British subjects in the appointment of consular officers, but the services of many foreign officials of the British Government were of the greatest value, and the sweeping condemnation which had been passed on them was quite undeserved. He cited the case of a Swiss gentleman in the British service, a man of distinction, who from his commercial knowledge and literary accomplishments had been of considerable service in acquainting us with the opportunities for British trade in Switzerland. When persons spoke of the defects of the consular service, the real difficulty was money. If they could persuade the Treasury to give unlimited funds the Foreign Office could have the best Englishmen that this country produced in order to represent it in the service, but they had not succeeded in persuading the Treasury to go to that length. They had the greatest difficulty in persuading the Treasury to increase by a single sovereign the amount which was devoted by this country to the consular service. He spoke as the representative of the Foreign Office, but he recognised the difficulty which the Treasury was placed in. It had to meet enormous calls in every service, and unless the. House of Commons could persuade the Treasury to increase the sums of money at the disposal of the Department they could not increase beyond a certain point the status of their representatives all over the world.
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
said it was not an unfair suggestion, and he would give the subject his consideration. But had the Department done nothing? They had appointed a Departmental Committee to overhaul the whole conditions of entrance and qualifications for the consular service. It would be obviously premature and absurd on his part to discuss the subject while the Committee was inquiring into it, but he thought that commercial considerations ought to be taken more into account in the appointments made. He also thought that something might be done to give consuls a certain amount of commercial training, perhaps even after their appointment. The question was worthy of consideration, at any rate. Then as to their reports. They varied; some were better than others; but he did not think the universal condemnation of the reports was quite fair. The hon. Member for King's Lynn condemned one report.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he condemned no report at all; what he complained of was that the reports mentioned neither the date nor the place at which they were written.
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
said that in the particular case mentioned by the hon. Member it was stated that the report was for the year 1901, and was written by His Majesty's Consul-General; and statistics were given on such subjects as railway traffic and Custom-house returns for a series of years up to 1901. Why did the hon. Member always condemn without consideration?
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
For the year 1901; it is as plain as the nose on your face. Recently the Foreign Office had been attempting to specify in rather greater detail the kind of commercial relations which were expected of consuls in dealing with traders. It was not easy. Anything like using public servants as 299 advertisers or touts for particular articles had to be avoided. Such a thing would be greatly resented in this country. On the other hand, consuls were in a position to acquire a great deal of information, and the Foreign Office had laid it down that all the information which consuls could communicate without breach of confidence should be placed at the service of British traders. In order that the consuls might be of more direct use for the assistance of colonial trade, the Foreign Office had also arranged, on the application of one of the colonies, that they should be allowed to correspond directly with the Colonial Governments, and so establish one more proof of the usefulness of the Imperial connection with the colonies. But, though it was desirable that the consuls should subserve commercial interests, that was not the only thing they had to do. They were concerned with matters of shipping, marriage, bills of exchange, wills, and declarations; and many other matters with regard to the maritime part of their work. In one year the Consular Office at Antwerp was instrumental in engaging nearly 16,000 seamen, and in discharging rather more. One of the duties of the consul was to act as a sort of intermediary in sending home the money of British sailors; and from the office at Hamburg alone as much as £19,000 was remitted in small sums for the benefit of British sailors. That corresponded with a very widely extended sphere of work of the consuls, and it was only fair to bear in mind that in addition to their commercial work they had these other obligations of very long standing also to attend to. It was not only consuls that were used by the Foreign Office to further commercial interest. Recently the Foreign Office thought it would be advantageous to bring the commercial agents—whose work was still in an experimental stage—into direct contact with the trading centres of this country; and so the two most important of those agents, from Russia and America, came to England, and visited many of the large centres of industry. Their reception was very instructive. In many places there was no enthusiasm, and it was evident that there was no consensus of opinion, 300 as to the importance of these agents' work, among the best commercial men. The secretary of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce wrote to ask whether the agents represented the Government, because he had never heard of them. The Belfast Chamber of Commerce said that the Chamber did not think fit to take any action; and the President of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce stated that the larger manufacturers thought they could obtain all the necessary information from their own agents, and that, as the smaller manufacturers sold their produce to the larger, they were not concerned. It was easy to understand that while this departure was in an experimental stage there should be a certain amount of indifference to it among commercial classes; but he had said enough to show that, while the Foreign Office was making every effort to assist commercial interests, they had some difficulties to contend with. But the Foreign Office would persevere, because they believed that the information which the commercial agents were able to acquire, and the representation of British interests which they were able to provide, was a useful thing; and they hoped that, as the great trading centres became more accustomed to the work of the agents, the indifference now displayed would disappear.
§ (6.8.) SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
said that no one would grudge the time which the noble Lord had taken in dwelling upon the importance of the consular service. What the House of Commons desired to be assured of was that the growing importance of that service was receiving adequate recognition from the Government of the day. He had heard a great deal of sound doctrine from the hon. Member for Northampton on this subject. The hon. Member said that one Front Bench was as bad as the other in this matter. For thirteen of the seventeen years he had been in Parliament he had scarcely seen a Liberal Government in power, and he must say that the atoms of responsibility which might rest on a Liberal Government seemed to him to have quite disappeared in the much larger share of responsibility monopolised by 301 the other side. The object, as laid down by the hon. Member, was that of having better trade and a more energetic, consular service. Of course he advocated that; but let the Committee bear in mind that where there were shortcomings in the consular service it was simply because economy had been so pressed on the Government of the day. In order to secure a sufficient service a considerable amount of money must be spent on it. He quite agreed that a rearrangement and redistribution of the amount now spent might do something, but it would not do all that was wanted. He thought that more would have to be spent; and he would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that, though in times of peace we should spend much less than in time of war, there were services which required considerable expenditure in times of peace. He thought the noble Lord should bear in mind that one Department of the Government ought not to compete against another. What they desired was to have a policy on the part of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being must follow in the lines of the policy of his Government. Of course it rested with the Treasury to demand from the Government that a good case should be made out for any increase of expenditure in any Department; but it must rest with the Prime Minister of the day to decide, as between the Treasury and any other Department, whether this increase should be granted. If the House of Commons was to depart from the rigid application of economy in these matters, it must be invited to do so by the Government of the day. He was most reluctant to see the House of Commons force further expenditure upon the Government. He thought when the Government were obliged to admit short-comings, as the noble Lord haddone, they should be more ready to come forward and say that these shortcomings were inevitable because not enough money had been spent. What they would like to see was a more professional consular service, and men being specially trained for the work. But, having got men specially trained for the work, they must see that their promotion in the consular service was as far as possible in accordance with merit. Men who had 302 been specially trained for the work must receive adequate recognition whenever they responded to the training that had been given them. The hon. Member for Northampton would have to bear in mind that if they got a highly trained, intelligent, and universal consular service, men who had been highly trained, and had not only great ability but energy, were rather apt to he active supporters of British interests in whatever part of the world they were placed. If they had an active, intelligent consular service, the House must be ready on occasion to support the Government of the day in hacking up the pushing of British interests in places where an ergetic consular officer had decided that support was needed. In fact, the House of Commons must be ready to vote more money for the consular service, and to place more confidence in it, and to expect to see the Government support British interests in those places where support was needed. In regard to the consular Reports, he thought it unfair to pick individual Reports out of the whole mass. The number of Reports was so large that there must be a great variety of merit amongst them. He thought everything should be done to encourage good Reports, Not nearly enough had been done by the Government or by public opinion to crystallise any standard of what was a good Report. He doubted whether a consular officer, in drawing up his Report, had a sufficiently clear idea of what the Government wished him to do. Consular officers should be made to feel that the excellence of their Reports did not pass without notice, but that it resulted in improving their own position in the consular service. The Chambers of Commerce ought to explain to the Government what they wanted. Whenever a trader found a consular Report which was useful to him he should bring it before his Chamber, and the Chamber of Commerce should, in turn, lay it before the Government as the sort of Report that was useful to them. That would enormously help the Government the day in advising consular officers as to the sort of Reports which were really of use to this country. The noble Lord had told them that in many places Chambers of Commerce were comparatively indifferent to the consular work that was being done. Well, we had to remember that we were passing 303 through a time of very great prosperity, which he hoped would continue. In a time of great prosperity, when the country was turning out as much work as it could do, there was always a certain danger of indifference growing up in commercial circles as to consular work. When the great trading districts of this country were turning out as much work as they could do, they were not likely to be very anxious about whether new markets were being formed, or whether a market was being lost, in another part of the world. That was just the danger against which they must endeavour in every way to guard. They must not lose that general level of industry in which the consular service would be doubly advantageous to this country in bad times. There were difficulties connected with the use of our consular service or diplomatic service as a means of pushing British industry abroad. In a country where British trade had been established for a long time they would probably find many British firms, and if there was a contract to be given or a piece of business to be obtained, they might find three or four British firms competing. But if there was a foreign country which was anxious to get a footing in that country, the Government of that foreign country might say to a firm of their own nationality, "There is no firm of our nationality doing business in this country, and there is considerable feeling. If you will go there we will support you." And, if that foreign firm went to that country, it had the full support of diplomatic and consular influence behind it. If, where there were three or four British firms, the British consular agent were to set himself to work entirely on the side of one firm, it would be said that he was doing something that was unfair. That was a condition of things that would be altered in the course of time, because as the number of foreign firms increased, foreign Governments would have to deal with the same difficulties that we had had to deal with. He thought it would be interesting if, on a future occasion, the Foreign Office would give them a synopsis of what other countries had been doing in regard to their: consular services. They heard that the United States and Germany had increased their 304 trade enormously; and it would be interesting to know what use they had made of their consular services in the matter, how much more had been spent on their consular services, and how many new posts had been established. The time had come when we must be more than ever alert to learn the extent to which other countries—those which were our especial rivals—were increasing their consular services, and the amount of money they were spending on the salaries they gave to their consular officers in different parts of the world. That information would be interesting as a test of comparison as to how we stood ourselves. He now passed from the consular service to the diplomatic questions affecting the larger issues of policy which had been raised. He was sorry he had not heard the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, but he regretted to hear that for once, in an unwonted anxiety to relieve His Majesty's Government, he had attacked one of His Majesty's Ambassadors. He was glad the hon. Member had already modified his criticism on the statement that the noble Lord had made that no demand had been made for the withdrawal of Lord Currie by the Italian Government.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he had explained that his remarks were based on information given to him that the Court of Home had absolutely requested the recall of Lord Currie.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
said he was glad the matter had ended in that way. He was sure that anybody who had been associated with Lord Currie in public work would understand his being a persona grata wherever he was placed, and would be very glad to be associated with him in public work again. It was quite true it might be difficult, in some circumstances, for ambassadors to be popular with the Governments to whom they were accredited. The noble Lord opposite said we had so many points of conflict with different countries. We had a great many points of contact, and it was the first duty of an ambassador, while upholding British interests, to prevent points of contact becoming points of conflict. There were times 305 when that became impossible, and when it had been stated or hinted in debate that Lord Currie failed to be popular at Constantinople, he would say that that was distinctly a case in which he should not blame the ambassador. The circumstances were such that he thought it would be impossible for a British Ambassador to be popular at Constantinople in the trying times through which Lord Currie passed during the first years he was there, consistently with his doing his duty to his own Government at home, and to the great international and moral questions that were raised at that time. But though he would be entirely against attacking an Ambassador on any occasion at the expense of His Majesty's Government, he thought the noble Lord went a little too far when he claimed such great credit to Lord Currie on the ground that the Italian policy had been so successful. He had no criticism to make on Lord Currie in the matter of policy. On matters of policy the Government alone must be held responsible. He did not think the Italian policy had been so conspicuously successful that it was entitled to be given as an instance of great diplomatic achievement. He should be glad not to be misunderstood in this matter. Criticism had been passed because a friendly understanding had been brought about between the French and Italian Governments. He would not have had Lord Currie or His Majesty's Government do anything in the world to prevent that good understanding being brought about. A few years ago it might have sounded like a paradox, perhaps, to say that His Majesty's Government and the French Government should go hand-in-hand in African and Mediterranean questions, and that, therefore, if His Majesty's Government were going hand-in-hand with Italy, it would be impossible that Italy could go hand-in hand with France. Things had changed in the last few years. Some causes of friction with the French Government had become very ancient, but, what was still more, many of those almost innumerable points of contact in Africa, which many of them feared were likely to become points of conflict, had been adjusted in a peaceable and satisfactory manner between the 306 two countries, with the result that boundaries had everywhere been drawn between British and French Possessions in Africa, and the French had now got an enormous territory in Africa, along which boundaries had been drawn mutually between the two countries in so far as they touched our own territory—an enormous territory, which was not open to the reproach that it was not worth having, but which, on the contrary, when it was developed, might become an enormous and valuable French Empire in Africa. That excited, he believed, neither apprehension nor jealousy, nor grumbling in this country. While boundary questions were pending in West Africa, there was, perhaps, some apprehension. But now that they had been settled, though criticisms were passed at the time that too much was being given away, the settlement had been accepted by this country, and we looked forward to being occupied in developing our own territory; and he believed we had not an atom of jealousy or apprehension in the matter, or any desire that the French territory should not succeed as well as our own. That being so, he saw no reason why the French and Italian understanding should result in England being on worse terms with the Italian Government. But he was not sure that His Majesty's Government had managed matters satisfactorily. Why he did not criticise Lord Currie in the matter was simply this. The point which occurred to his mind was that this was just one of those agreements which we made with the French Government some years ago, which did give rise to apprehension in the Italian mind that Italian interests, present or prospective, in Tripoli, were in some way being affected by the agreement which had been come to. He thought there was no need for that apprehension, but there was need of tact and foresight by which all suspicion and apprehension in the Italian mind had been prevented. It was almost impossible, if they did not do these things at the time, to entirely get rid of apprehension. What he should like to be quite sure about was that the agreement between France and Italy had not been arrived 307 at at the expense of our own relation with the Italian Government. He thought he might urge that because it was not a counsel of perfection which was unattainable. Lord Currie's action was not the question; he could not possibly adjust the relations between the British the Italian and the French Governments unless he had instructions from home. Where it was a question of preserving the good relations between the three countries, it was largely a matter of policy for which the Ambassador could not be held responsible. He would only say, in conclusion, that he did not grudge in the least the better understanding between Italy and France. In fact, he welcomed it, because he had always felt it to be a most undesirable situation that it should be supposed that any understanding between England and Italy should make it impossible for ourselves or Italy to arrange affairs with France in the same cordial way. He welcomed it as a great obstacle to peace which had now been removed. He was glad that the Italian Government did arrange its own affairs with the French Government in the manner in which it had arranged them. But what he contended for was that there should be tact and watchfulness on the part of the British Government, so as to make it perfectly clear to both parties that this country regarded the arrangement as one which should not impair its relations with either. He expressed his satisfaction at the fact that the hon. Member for Lynn Regis did not intend to press his Motion which he made—that the salary of the Ambassador at Rome should be reduced—because he was sure it was one which could not be supported by anyone who had ever been associated with Lord Currie in public work.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
, in asking leave to withdraw his Motion, said that, as the noble Lord had stated most distinctly that His Majesty's Government had not received any demand from the Italian Government for the withdrawal of Lord Currie, he thought he ought to express his regret at having given currency to a statement which he, at the time, fully believed to be founded on fact.
§ (6.38.) SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said that he agreed with his right hon. 308 friend (Sir K. Grey) as to ninety-nine-hundredths of what he had said, and therefore he would not occupy the time of the Committee by referring to the points of agreement, but simply deal with one or two matters in regard to which his views did not fully coincide with those of his right hon. friend. On the question of Consular representation there was a tendency on the part of all who had been connected with the Foreign Office to ignore the fact that there had been a good deal of jobbery in connection with Consular appointments. Personally he was acquainted—as other Members must be— with notorious cases in which men, by an undue use of the patronage of various Secretaries of State, had been "jobbed" into Consular appointments for which they were totally unfit, and the interests of the country had suffered in very high degree in consequence. There was also the fact that most meritorious Consuls had for years laboured very hard indeed in the service of the country, and in the commercial work to which so much importance was properly attached, and had then frequently been passed over, and men from outside had been "jobbed" over their heads into posts which were regarded as the prizes of the profession, and to which these Consuls ought to have been appointed as a reward for the good work they had done. Subject to these remarks—and he thought there was already some improvement in regard to the matters to which he referred, which improvement, under the watchfulness of the House, must be constant — he concurred in all that had fallen from his right hon. friend on the subject. Passing to the more important question of the diplomatic relations of this country, he did not think that, in his heart, any Member of the Committee could really be of opinion that our Consular and; Diplomatic Services were what they might or ought to be. The Under Secretary of State had said, as regarded the Consular Service, that a Departmental Committee was now sitting; and he had stated what that Committee was considering, and what he hoped it might do. But all the Departments of the State were in some degree like the War Office in this respect—that Committee after Committee was appointed, excellent reports were made, but little action resulted. It was 309 a curious fact that the very points selected by the noble Lord as being matters on which, because of the appointment of this Committee, he could not speak, were most fully considered by the Ridley Commissioners a few year. ago, and recommendations were made, which had been only in part acted upon. These very points of jobbery were dealt with not obscurely in the Report, and steps ought to have been taken to avoid the repetition of such proceedings. It was only by constant watchfulness on the part of the Committee and of the public generally, that the Consular and Diplomatic Services would be kept up to the mark. As to the diplomatic side of the question he was confident that the a was not a Member of the Committee who, in private, would for a moment maintain that our diplomatic representation, either at Rome or at Pekin, during recent events, had been what it might have been. Too good a face was being put upon facts when it was suggested that our representation had been the most competent in affairs of such moment to the State. He fully agreed that the main responsibility for what had occurred at Rome — to which, on the present Occasion he would confine his remarks—must rest upon the policy of the Government. But were His Majesty's Government thoroughly well informed by their Ambassador at Rome as to what was passing? Did any Member of the Committee believe that while the French Embassy at Rome was in the hands of Monsieur Barrère we were adequately represented by our Ambassador, and that the Government had been thoroughly informed? It was impossible to watch what occurred at Rome during last winter without seeing that there had been failure, both of policy and of the agent of the policy, and that we were not competently represented throughout those transactions. He agreed very largely with the right hon. Gentleman as to the general nature of what those transactions might have been, and the general turn which might usefully have been given to the negotiations, but he was amazed at the statement of the noble Lord that our relations with Italy had never been more cordial, and at his claiming 310 for Lord Currie the credit of having restored those relations to the position of extreme cordiality. No member of the Committee who had followed the official declarations of the Governments of Austria, Italy and France upon this subject could believe that our relations with Italy at present were restored to the position of cordiality of a few years ago. Then we had an agreement on the lines of our general policy of the maintenance of the status quo in the Mediterranean, whereas now, so far as could be gathered from the explanations given in Austria, Italy and France, that agreement had been replaced by an arrangement to which Italy had come having in view not the maintenance, but the disruption of the status qou.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. BOLAND (Kerry, S.)
who also had on the Paper a Motion to reduce the Vote for the salary of the Under Secretary of Stats by £1,000, said that he regretted the noble Lord had not dealt more exhaustively with the criticism of the extravagance with the arrangement of the Consular service. In addition to the Ambassador at Berlin, Ministers were maintained at Bavaria, Darmstadt, and Saxony. He should have thought that the Minister at Berlin would be able to deal with all the affairs in Germany, and in this connection he desired to know whether these small States had representatives at the British Court. £3,550 was voted annually for the maintenance of these Ministers and their underlings. It might be said that it was extremely useful for young diplomats to have an opportunity of learning their business at small and unimportant courts. As regarded the economic question, as an Irish Member he was deeply interested in this matter, because a certain portion of it came out of the pockets of the people of Ireland. Therefore he trusted that there would be an adequate explanation given of this matter. It had been stated by the noble Lord that the Maltese question had been solved, but was the Foreign Office ignorant of what was going on there? Far from this question being solved, it was in a condition which was anything but I satisfactory.
§ * LORD CRANBORNE
What I said was that all the soreness which existed in Italy with regard to the Maltose question had been removed.
§ MR. BOLAND
said he was glad to have this explanation, and he hoped the noble Lord would show why this enormous sum of £3,550 was spent in this way
§ MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR (Essex, Romford)
thought that these Consular Reports should at least be business-like, otherwise they were not worth the paper they were printed upon, and it would be a waste of time to read them and publish them. It was well known how unbusiness-like the Foreign Office were in these matters, and our trade and commerce suffered in consequence. Our Consular Reports compared very unfavourably with those of the United States. America spent a much larger sum of money, and employed fifty one Consuls in Germany, as compared with five paid officials representing Great Britain in Germany. That showed how unbusiness-like the Foreign Office method was, and, in his opinion, this Department ought to be placed in charge of a Minister of Commerce. This question very much affected the Colonies, because foreign Governments had Consulsand commercial attachés in all our Colonies, with the result that they snatched the trade which should come to this country. They had no information sent them to guide English traders and manufacturers. This was not the only point in which this country was behind, for in South Africa and Japan similar things were occurring. In South Africa, during the 312 war, France and Germany sent out agents to report what could be done there for their manufactures, and all kinds of trade in manufactured articles and contracts had been taken away from us. That was the result of inadequate commercial information, for they had a right to demand reliable information for the money which was spent. The noble Lord the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs seemed to be satisfied that the amount of commerce with Bolivia was so small that it was not worth considering.
§ MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR
said that Bolivia did a large trade with this country. He wished to point out to the noble Lord that our commerce and diplomatic relations with Bolivia had been interrupted on account of the unwarrantable action of the British agent out there. Since the year 1840 there had been no commercial or diplomatic relations with that country owing to the action of this agent. Some promises had been made upon this point, and he trusted good results would follow. They ought to have some better assurance that these matters would be looked into. The allocation of the money in these Estimates was absolutely unbusiness-like, and he questioned whether the Committee knew what these Consuls actually did. Anyone who travelled on the Continent knew that if he required the assistance of a British Consul he often had to drive four or five miles away from the town to find him. Our Consuls were generally called in chiefly to settle disputes in regard to the bills of boarding houses, but if the representatives of this country abroad were appointed on account of their qualifications and understood our commercial requirements, he was sure they would have infinitely better results and better reports. The British commercial attaché in France had not only to look after France, but also Italy and Switzerland, and our German representatives had also to look after Norway, Finland, and portions of Russia. Under those circumstances could they hope to get any 313 useful information from men who had to cover so much ground? The Foreign Office might bean excellent Department in regard to diplomacy, but when it undertook duties which properly belonged to the Board of Trade, such as the appointment of the commercial attachés and Consuls, it must result in bad work. They had always had had work and bad reports, and this state of things would remain as long as the Foreign Office undertook to do what it could not possibly perform satisfactorily. His noble friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was excellent in diplomacy, but what did he know about trade and commerce? It had been clearly shown in the past that it was not to the advantage of this country at large to combine these two important offices. He hoped it would be realised that a Minister of commerce was urgently needed, and it was on these grounds that he ventured to bring those matters before the Committee.
§ (7.0.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said the hon. Member who had just sat down appeared to have a most exaggerated idea of what could be accomplished by the Foreign Office if they had a Minister for commerce. He was of opinion that if British manufacturers and merchants were to be helped, they must in the main help themselves. What the Foreign Office could do was, by comparison, trivial. The whole subject was inquired into, and a new departure was taken during the eighties, with which the commercial men of the country expressed themselves satisfied. The debates which had since taken place bad not advanced us much. An addition had been made to the number of commercial attachés, and on one occasion a certain number of persons were sent out, who travelled through a considerable area and sent reports. If anything else were to be done it must be an entirely now departure. It was perfectly true, as had been stated, that at various times in the past there had been great abuses of patronage in the Consular Service, and a great many people had been put into it who were not fit for the work, while, on the other hand, the efforts of many conscientious and able men bad been overlooked, and they had 314 not received the promotion which was their due. He regretted that he had not heard from the noble Lord a much more distinct acknowledgment that the time had come for making the Consular Service a proper branch of the Civil Service. If they had a regular system of changes, and gave the Members that knowledge of languages and commercial law which would fit them to give good reports, and then assured them that their work would be carefully watched and adequately rewarded, they would secure a service which would be much more efficient than the present, and would meet the demands of the commercial world. He agreed with the noble Lord that it was to a considerable extent a question of money, but it was not a question of a large sum of money. The amount required to make our Consular Service equally competent with that of Germany or France or the United States was a mere trifle compared with the amount spent on the Diplomatic and Consular Services altogether. Although something might be done in the way of rearrangement, it would be necessary, in order to have that properly settled, that the Treasury should take a much more enlightened view of this matter than it did at present. When he was at the Foreign Office he found that when an application was made to the Treasury for a grant of money for a new purpose, such as the appointment of a consular agent, the Treasury said they would give the money if the Foreign Office would undertake to make a reduction in some other quarter. The Treasury accepted the reduction in respect of some other expense which was being incurred, but did not make the new appointment. The consequence was that the Departments, were not nearly so ready to go to the Treasury as otherwise, and the Treasury lost the opportunity of benefiting the public service. There was something grotesque about the way in which, under our system of Government, one Department blamed another. But the Government ought to have one policy in this matter, and the noble Lord could not shield his Department by coming down and saying that it was all the fault of the Treasury.
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
I added to the observations I ventured to make, that, on these pecuniary subjects, I fully recognise that the Treasury have some case, because they have immense obligation in other directions.
§ MR. BRYCE
agreed that they had; but said that at the same time the expenditure in this case, if properly made, would be reproductive expenditure, and therefore it ought to be fairly considered by the Treasury. A sum of £10,000 or £15,000 might very usefully be added to our Consular expenditure, but he would spend that money not so much in establishing new Consulates as in extending the system of commercial attachés. Something had been said about the Consular reports; they could not be criticised as a whole. There were good and bad among them. They might as well try to criticise the novels of the last five years. Some of the reports were so scanty as to be nothing better than a few tables of statistics. He had seen a good many of the reports of United States Consuls, and he would suggest to the Foreign Office that our representatives abroad should furnish us with similar reports. They were short treatises on the commercial possibilities of the future. If the commercial attachés would endeavour to produce something like the United States Consular reports, they would add very much to the resources of our commercial men. He was glad to hear that a Committee was sitting upon the subject, and he only hoped that a little more would be done as a consequence than was done after the report of a former Committee. In regard to Italy, he was glad to hear the noble Lord express the belief that our relations with that country were as cordial as ever they had been. He entirely agreed that the conclusion of the agreement between France and Italy ought not to give any umbrage to this country.
§ *MR. WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)
said that, in the debate which took place recently, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs stated that the Government were abandoning their efforts to obtain the abolition of likin duties in China. In regard to that statement, he was afraid 316 he had nothing but disapproval to express. He did not concur in the sweeping criticism made from the opposite Benches on the occasion of the last debate, to the effect that every European Government looked after the interests of its subjects in China except our own. He would make quite a contrary statement. This country was the first to initiate the armed interference which had secured the tranquillity of China. It had also been foremost in pressing for the abolition of restrictive duties, and, in fact, it had encouraged the policy of the open door. In regard to other countries getting concessions to make railways, he said that if we maintained the policy of the open door, the more railways were constructed by other people the better it would be for British merchants. He had been connected for a long period with many experts in the China trade, and the opinion expressed by almost every one of them with regard to the abolition of the likin stations was that final success was almost certain, if the Government persevered in their efforts. The noble Lord mentioned that the difficulties, would be almost insurmountable, because the larger part of the likin duties was raised on native and not on foreign trade. He quite concurred with the noble Lord as to the difficulties of abolishing these duties. Probably the difficulties of the Chinese Government in raising the indemnity fund had magnified their other difficulties. He, however, was encouraged to hope from the further statement of the noble Lord that they would be able, by fiscal arrangements at any rate, to relieve foreign trade in China from those enormous and uncertain burdens imposed upon it. Perhaps, as one having had some experience in the China trade, he might be allowed to give a little advice, and that was that in pursuing their more moderate policy the Government should follow as much as possible Article 28 of the Treaty of Tien-Tsin of 1858, when, after defining the method of the payment of transit dues, declared that the Chinese Government should issue certificates which should exempt British goods from all further imports under whatever name. If the Government were to insist on the observance of that Article, British merchants would be relieved, of an intolerable burden to 317 which they had been subjected for many years past. But the total abolition of likin would be not only to the enormous benefit of the British merchants, but of the Chinese themselves.
§ *LORD CRANBORNE
said that his hon. friend who had just sat down seemed to imagine that the Government had abandoned all hope of the abolition of the likin. He must remind the Committee that likin was imposed upon two classes of merchandise — foreign and native. As far as the interests of this country were concerned, all that we cared for was to relieve foreign merchandise of this burden. Native likin was far larger than foreign. It had been said that unless the likin stations were abolished altogether, illegal impositions would continue. The Foreign Office were at first impressed with that view, and entertained a hope that they should persuade the Chinese Government to abolish the likin stations altogether. But when they began to inquire into the matter, they found that a large trading opinion in this country was against them. Those engaged in the China trade, in Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, and elsewhere, and the China Association in London, were all agreed that the total abolition of the stations was impossible, and for this reason, that the amount of money involved in the abolition of native likin was so considerable that no increase in Customs duties would make good anything like the deficiency which would result. In deference to the views of those trading interests which were urged upon the Foreign Office, they were reluctantly compelled to abolish that policy. But as to the abolition of likin upon foreign merchandise, that they still hoped to achieve. His hon. friend the Member for the Romford Division had said that we were very much under represented by Consular agents in China as compared with Germany. The hon. Member was under a total misapprehension. Our Consular and diplomatic agents numbered thirty-five. As regards the character of the Consular reports on trade, he pointed out that it was impossible for the Consuls to go into the elaborate technical details which some gentlemen seemed to require, 318 but, on the other hand, he admitted that some of those reports might be better. One of the things which the Foreign Office was at present engaged in was to raise the quality of the Consular trade reports which were under the standard, and with that view they were now in communication with the Board of Trade in the hope of enlisting their assistance and co-operation.
§ *MR. WEIR
said he trusted the noble Lord would see the importance of the reduction of the likin, especially on foreign goods. That tax affected British industry to a serious extent. There should be either the abolition of the likin or the imposition of a single tax at the port of entry, which would cover both likin and transit. He called the attention of the noble Lord to the fact that the British Consular offices in the East were only kept open from ten to twelve and from two to four, whereas the American Consular offices were kept open for two hours longer every day. He was not surprised, therefore, that the American merchants were getting larger orders than the British. There was not that go on the part of the British Consuls which there ought to be. Again, he wanted to know why the British Consul at Kobe failed to refer in his Consular Reports to industries in his district, the export value of which through the Kobe Customs did not exceed 200,000 yen annually. For instance, an industry such as the Tansan Mineral Water in which the population of all the villages around the "source" near Kobe were employed. This natural mineral water was the favourite water of the East, and not only largely exported from Kobe, but from Nagasaki, Yokohama and other Japanese ports, yet no reference whatever has been made to it in the Consular Report, although it is owned and conducted by an Englishman.
§ It being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolutions to be reported tomorrow; Committee also report Progress; to sit again this evening.