HC Deb 09 March 1916 vol 80 cc1788-816

6.0 P.M.

Colonel YATE

The point I wish to bring to the notice of the Noble Lord who represents the Foreign Office here is connected with the condition of our Consular Services. I would like to ask the Noble Lord to tell us what steps have been taken for the training of student interpreters in the Russian language for service as Consuls in Russia, in view of the probable enormous expansion of our trade with Russia at the termination of the present War. I have called attention to this subject more than once, but have never been able to get any reply from the Foreign Office. We have a school for student interpreters in Turkey, where they teach not only Turkish, but also Arabic and Persian. But we have no school established in Russia, although the Russian language is just as difficult to learn as the Turkish. Our trade, too, with Russia is just as important as that with Turkey, and, in fact, at the conclusion of this War, considering that our Russian friends are coming over here and inviting us to trade with them, it is to be hoped that that trade will be enormously expanded and become even more important than the Turkish trade is. I would like to bring to the notice of the Noble Lord the fact that all Russian Consular and Diplomatic officers in the East are specially trained at the Oriental school at Petrograd. We now have the school of Oriental languages under the University of London, where I hope our young men will have opportunities for qualifying themselves for service in the East. But I think we ought to have a school for student interpreters in Russia itself. I trust that the attention of the Foreign Office will be given to this matter. We have an excellent training ground for Consuls in Persia and Arabia in India, and every facility exists there, and no men are better fitted to fill our Consular posts in Persia and Arabia than the officers of the Indian Political Service. Persian chiefs and tribesmen, as I think the Noble Lord is well aware, much prefer to deal with officers of a commissioned service, and it is a great mistake in Oriental countries like Persia to appoint a man to a Consular post who happens for the time being to be in mercantile employ and has not the requisite standing. I may give an instance of what I mean. The British Vice-Consulship at Sultanabad, in Persia, a town which has recently come into great prominence during the late Russian advance, has hitherto been filled by the manager of the firm of Ziegler and Company, who are naturalised Swiss. Their manager, who himself is British, has done excellent service for us there. But the manager at Shiraz is a German, who, I may mention, was not interfered with when the British Consul and community were arrested and compelled to undergo great hardships at the hands of the Germans there. This shows how difficult it is to arrange with managers of mercantile firms to represent this country. At Yezd the British Consul was the representative of the Indo-European Telegraph Company—a warrant officer of the Royal Engineers. My contention is that all the Consular posts in the East and South of Persia should be filled by regular officers of the Indian Political Service. Those in the North and West of Persia are held by Foreign Office nominees, but special care should be taken in the matter of selecting them. In the Persian Gulf ports I honestly admit a certain knowledge of commercial and shipping law is necessary for which special Vice-Consuls should be appointed.

When I was serving as a Consul-General in the East I often had opportunities of discussing with my foreign colleagues the different conditions of our respective Services. I found that the Russians divide their Diplomatic and Consular Services into two—one for the East and the other for the West. When I asked the reason for that I got the reply, "We require our best men for the East; any fool is good enough for the West." The Noble Lord will no doubt agree that we do not proceed on those lines. We rather seek to secure our best men for the West, and act as though any fool is good enough for the East. In fact, in the British Consular Service we attach more importance to appointments in the West than to those in the East. I submit that our appointments in the East should have greater importance attached to them than they have at the present time. There is another point in which the Russian Service differs greatly from ours. In the East the Russian Diplomatic and Consular Services are one, while, as the Noble Lord knows, our Diplomatic and Consular Services are kept rigidly distinct. Under present conditions, in case of any emergency, the last joint Secretary or Attaché of the Embassy would take charge as His Majesty's representative over the head of the oldest and most experienced Consul-General. What I would suggest is that in the East, except in the seaports, where, as I have said, a certain knowledge of commercial and shipping law is necessary, the Diplomatic and Consular duties are so intermixed that it is difficult to distinguish between them, and I think we might well take a leaf out of Russia's book in this respect and make our Diplomatic and Consular Services more interchangeable. Long Consular service and long Consular experience in any Eastern country should get more recognition than it does at present.

I should like the Noble Lord to remember that Sir Edwin Pears, in his book entitled "Forty Years of Constantinople," has forcibly brought to notice the difference between the German and British Services in this respect. Discussing the contrast between the German and British Embassies at Constantinople, he used these words: It was made worse than it might have been from the mischievous general rule of our Foreign Office which erects an almost impassable barrier between the Consular and Diplomatic Services, a barrier which I have long desired to break down. That book clearly shows how handicapped the British Embassy in Constantinople was. As the Noble Lord will remember, this matter was the subject of a question in this House later on, and he gave, in the course of his reply, a whole string of names of people at Constantinople who had long knowledge of Turkey and with whom our Ambassador was said to be in constant touch. But the Noble Lord must know, as anyone who has ever been inside a British Embassy knows perfectly well, that no Consular official is admitted within those sacred precincts, and Sir Edwin Pears' remarks about the impassable barrier that exist between the two Services are perfectly true. The result is that, in all Eastern countries at any rate, if not in Western, British interests go to the wall. The whole system requires alteration, and unless it is altered British interests will continue to go to the wall. We know that in the commercial world there is a great agitation going on at the present moment for the appointment of a Minister of Commerce. Whether or not one will be appointed, I cannot say, but I do urge that we should in the immediate future pay more attention to our commercial requirements, and, above all, we should join up our Diplomatic and commercial departments more than we do at present.

Another point which I should like to mention in connection with our Consular Services is the vast number of aliens who now hold office as British Consular officers abroad. Nearly a year ago I asked that at least all persons holding the rank of Consul-General and Consul should in future be British-born subjects. The Noble Lord was unable to give me any assurance on that subject. The question of our Consular Service in neutral countries has come up rather prominently of late, and it was brought to the notice of the Government by my hon. Friend the Member for the Kirkdale Division of Liverpool (Mr. Pennefather) in the form of a question. It was stated by the Noble Lord, in reply, that at the present moment we are only spending .05 of the value of our commerce with America on our Consuls in America, and .07 of the value of our exports to Spain on our Consuls in Spain. That shows how little we spend on this important Service in comparison with our commerce. Further, in our Consular Service in Spain alone there are twenty unsalaried aliens. Out of 111 Consuls and Vice-Consuls in Scandinavia and Holland only eleven salaried and seventeen unsalaried are of British descent, and eighty-three are all unsalaried aliens. I urged upon the Foreign Office the importance of replacing all the unsalaried aliens by salaried Britishers. I have represented more than once the fact that the necessary funds might be obtained for the payment of British Consuls by instituting the system of levying fees for Consular invoice certificates, certificates of origin and legalisation of bills of lading by our Consular officers resident in those countries which levy similar fees in England. The reply I received referred me to the Board of Trade. I honestly believe it is the Board of Trade and not the Foreign Office which has hitherto stood in the way of levying these fees.

In a letter published in the papers the other day it was stated that the levying of these fees on the same scale as other countries levy them from us would bring in a revenue to the Treasury of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 sterling a year. Whether that is true or not I cannot say. But this I do know, that when I put the question to the President of the Board of Trade the other day he put me off by saying he could not recommend the levying of these fees in view of the considerable additional burden which it would impose on His Majesty's Consular Service. Can one imagine a more futile reply? What are British Consuls for if they cannot levy fees? If any Consulate is overworked an additional clerk for each might easily be added, and it would not cost more than £100,000 out of the £5,000,000 that might be thus obtained. On being pressed the President of the Board of Trade acknowledged that an additional £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 would be welcomed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he added, "Other considerations had to be taken into account." I set to work to try and find out if I could what those other considerations were. What did I find? I found that ten or eleven years ago certain wise acres at the Board of Trade recorded their objections to the levying of these Consular invoice fees, on the ground of their being a detriment to trade and an annoyance to the merchant. But those wiseacres quite forgot that under the present system, by which only foreign Consuls in this country levy these fees, it is the British merchant who has to suffer the detriment and annoyance, while his rival abroad goes scot-free. The sooner the foreign merchant has to pay the same fees and suffer the same detriment and annoyance the better it will be. So far as I can gather, the whole of this time the Board of Trade has been saving foreign merchants at the expense of and to the detriment of British merchants.

I look to the Foreign Office to try to set this matter right and no longer to uphold these unpatriotic actions on the part of the officials of the Board of Trade, to say nothing of the necessity of safeguarding the interests of our own revenue. The levy of these fees will provide funds sufficient to enable us to replace those alien unsalaried Vice-Consuls in all these neutral countries by British Commercial Vice-Consuls, who will have nothing to do but to further British trade. I would ask the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs to see if he cannot set about making this change at once. To sum up, I ask, first of all, for a greater combination and amalgamation between the Diplomatic and the Consular Services, especially in Eastern countries. Secondly, I ask for an entire change in the method of appointment in the Diplomatic Service. Those who know anything about the Diplomatic Service know that at the present moment the younger members of that service have neither discipline nor responsibility. On appointment to an Embassy the young diplomatic secretary has nothing to do beyond ciphering and deciphering code telegrams, which is the work of a clerk. He has no initiative and no real responsibility until he is getting on to forty years of age. He has not had the advantage of the discipline of any large public office in his youth, and as he gets on in life we find that he cannot compare in any way with the officers in the Intelligence Departments of the Army and Navy. The Diplomatic Service requires the best men it can possibly get. We want to get them wherever we can, and the wider the range the better. I do not ask the Noble Lord to answer these questions now. I put them before him for consideration in the hope that we may get greater efficiency than we have had hitherto. Thirdly, and finally, I ask that all alien Consuls-General and Consuls should be abolished, that the offices should always be held by British-born subjects, that unsalaried alien Vice-Consuls should be replaced as far as possible by Britishers and that the funds for this should be found by levying the Consular invoice fees which I have suggested. I trust the Noble Lord will consent to take these steps.

I should like to put one point to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies with regard to Somaliland. I have here the last Report, which is brought up to 31st March, 1915, and I notice that it says: The military force of the Protectorate was considerably increased during the year under review in order to protect the friendly tribes from Dervish raids, to keep open the caravan routes and to preserve order in the interior. I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary upon the fact that this has at last been done. Our withdrawal to the coast and the desertion of the friendly tribes that took place three or four years ago was one of the most disastrous and disgraceful acts ever committed by us in our Eastern Empire. Originally we took over all these Somaliland tribesmen from the Egyptian Government in 1884, and the British Government, as the hon. Member will recollect, solemnly guaranteed protection to those tribesmen when we took them over, yet when the Mullah came we basely deserted them. I, for one, shall never forget the despairing letters I received from officers serving in Somaliland at the time, in regard to the manner in which they were ordered to desert the friendlies after the death of the brave and gallant Corfield. By his pluck and gallantry he won a great victory. Had he lived it would have been a great victory. The enemy had fled and our men were left in possession of the field of battle. Had he lived we should have held on. As it was, a disastrous and disgraceful retreat to the coast was ordered. Burao was abandoned and the whole country was left open to plunder. I am thankful to see that that policy of blue funk and panic, that cut and run policy, has been abandoned, and that new and stronger action has been taken. The Report goes on to say: With the military re-occupation of the interior a complete transformation has been brought about in the internal condition of the country, and peace among the various friendly tribes within the protected area has been well established. The Somalis have shown themselves quick to respond to the new order of things, and the settlement of tribal disputes and the return of looted property have been proceeded with apace. It is clear that the establishment of a fair measure of law and order amongst the friendly tribes presents no insuperable difficulty, though the raids of Abyssinian Somali subjects from across the border are apt to lead to disturbances and reprisals. That shows the advantages of a strong and forward policy. As to Abyssinian raids, they are mentioned; but nothing is said about the Mullah, and I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us something about him. The military re-occupation of the interior has at once brought peace to the country, and I cannot understand why it was ever withdrawn. I remember when Somaliland was under the Government of India and was administered by the Resident at Aden. It started well, the country was peaceful and contented, the roads were open, and the country was a great source of the supply of food for the garrison at Aden. Then all that was altered. The bad time came. Somaliland was taken away from the Government of India and handed over to the Foreign Office at home. The Foreign Office had no more idea how to rule the country than they had of ruling anything. Finally it was handed over by the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office. That was the last straw. Since then the country has gone from bad to worse, culminating in the final bolt from Burao under the policy of sheer funk. I am glad to think that the Colonial Office has seen the error of its ways, that the country has been reoccupied again, and that we have no longer to hang our heads over the shame of Somaliland being held up as a hideous example to the Eastern world that the British were no longer to be trusted to keep their word. I desire to ask the Under-Secretary a question as to the Military Forces there now. Is our hold over the tribes sufficient to keep down tribal raids and to afford protection against the Mullah or Abyssinian raids? Nothing would consolidate the country so much as a railway. I know that you cannot start a railway now, but I hope before this War comes to an end we may have made arrangements to lay a railway, if it is only a surface line on a 2 ft. 6 in. gauge to Burao, and, if possible, to Bohotle. At any rate, something that will give permanence and show the tribes that we mean to hold and keep the country in proper order.

I turn for a minute to the Colonial Civil Service. The Under-Secretary may have heard, if he did not know at the time, how a few years ago a young clerk at the Colonial Office, with ten years' service, was sent out to Ceylon as Colonial Secretary to supersede an old and valued servant there, who had no less than thirty-five years' service, and whose right it was to get the promotion. That appointment resulted in a feeling, not only of dissatisfaction and discontent, but of absolute despair throughout the whole Colonial Service. The Colonial Civil Service, after all, is very like the Indian Civil Service. Most Colonial Civil Service men have to pass their lives in unhealthy tropical climates in the Crown Colonies. They are often separated from their wives and children, and do not get very much pay. They rule vast lands in far out of the way places for the honour and glory of England, and a happy and. contented Colonial Civil Service is of the utmost importance. How can we have a happy and contented Service if the men who nave served all their lives in it are superseded by young fellows sent out from home to take the promotion to which these men are entitled? I mention the Ceylon case as the newspapers were full of it at the time and it is public property, but the result was that young men in England were seriously warned not to take Indian or Colonial service in future and told that the Home service was much better, all of which, naturally, tended to lower the status of the Indian and Colonial Civil Services. I hope we shall have an assurance that that sort of thing will not go on in the future. By all means let their be interchangeability between the Colonial Office at home and the Colonial Civil Service abroad, but let it be an interchangeability on equal terms. Let one man be sent out and another taken home of equal standing, but do not send out a young man of ten years' service to supersede the old and experienced man of thirty-five years service. I trust the Under-Secretary will take these matters into consideration and give some assurance to the Service that it will be treated fairly in the future.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Steel-Maitland)

. I should like to answer one or two points which the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Yate) has raised with regard to the Colonial Service. With regard to Somaliland, the hon. Member was perfectly right in thinking that the situation there at the present moment is quite extraordinarily favourable. Indeed, it is quite surprising, considering the amount of unrest existing in so many parts of the world just over the sea at Aden and in many places in the vicinity, that in Somaliland there has been less trouble during the last eighteen months than there was during the many years of the chequered history of that country before. As regards the retreat from Burao, to which the hon. Member refers, at present the sphere of British control extends not only as far as Burao but far inland to places which are as far from the coast as is Bohotle over the the border. For that state of affairs the administration of the present Commissioner is largely responsible. The hon. Member asked me, in particular, questions with regard to the military, the friendly tribes, and the Mullah. At present, so far as the military are concerned, the forces there have got the situation, and—I believe that the Wish is net father to the thought —absolutely in hand, so far as one can humanly say such a thing, and so much so that they are able to give certain facilities in regard to the British operations outside the Somalilanl area itself. With regard to the friendly tribes I think the same holds good. Indeed, it goes even beyond the friendly tribes. In their state of civilisation they have reached a maxim which is observed among much more civilised people, and that is to wait upon the march of events and to jump as the cat jumps. For that reason it is all the more gratifying to note that those tribes which were largely the cause of the trouble in being the support of the Mullah before, and whom he claims semi-paternally as his dervishes, are now by degrees deserting from his cause and intimating that they wish to side with the British Government—that is the tribes to the North. The other tribe to the South, which used to be one of his stand-byes, has in turn been itself so raided by an Abyssinian tribe from across the border that it is hors de combat for the present, even if it wished to commit any depredations. As for the Mullah himself, little has been heard of that interesting personality of late. I have had conversations recently with some of those who have returned from there, and I am told that the fact that he has been quiescent is perhaps less due to any decrease in his mental obliquity than to an increase of obesity, which makes it increasingly difficult for him to get about. But at the same time, as far as we know his resources in men and in camels have decreased. Not only therefore has he been quiescent, but there is every reason to suppose that his power is broken or is at any rate much less than it was before and more easily coped with. I do not think it is possible to say anything further, because while it is difficult to prophesy at any time the Mullah himself is a peculiarly unreliable subject for prophecy. At any rate that is the whole state of the information so far as we have it at present. As regards a railway, that is a development which is not yet contemplated. Of course, it is always an advantage if you can have a light railway, but I am afraid that is one of those developments which must be left to the not immediate future.

I now turn to the remarks which my hon. Friend (Colonel Yate) has made with regard to the Colonial Civil Service, mentioning in particular an appointment in Ceylon. There I must say quite distinctly that I entirely differ from nearly every word that he has said. Quite obviously it is to the advantage of any Government Department to do its best to see that the various claims of the officers under its administration should be scrupulously regarded. Obviously it is the best and it is the easiest course for the Department. But when my hon. Friend proceeds to suggest that any Government Department should always regard the number of years service and the ordinary expectation of office, it is there that I would part company with him entirely. No doubt any sensible Department would pay—and I can claim it in this present case—quite scrupulous care to the claims, to the capacities, and abilities of the various officers who are charged with administration. But to say that it is not right to give particular office or advancement under particular circumstances for pronounced ability or for other special reason would, I think, be running contrary to the true interests of the whole of the service. My hon. Friend mentions a particular appointment. Though he did not speak to me of this beforehand, and I did not know the question was going to be raised, I know perfectly well that that particular appointment was not for one single moment dictated by any idea of favouritism of any sort or kind whatsoever. I have heard criticisms during the past year from the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Cheshire with regard to what he considered to be faults of administration in the Straits Settlements, and how a particularly firm hold was not kept there, and he alleged that lack of firmness was partly responsible for the outbreak which took place. I put it to the hon. Member, Does that not mean that while in general it is perfectly natural and right to advance officers by seniority, yet for given reasons you have got to pick out men of capacity who are most suited to the circumstances? And if I were asked on my own responsibility, I should say that when it comes to conditions that need men of particular capacities I should, without the least hesitation whatsoever, make just such an appointment again, because I believe it entirely warranted by the circumstances. That does not in the least detract from the general wish of any Department to do equal justice, but I submit that it is for the benefit, of the service as a whole and of the country that, just at a time when you want particular capacity to be given its full scope, that should be done freely and absolutely without reservation as circumstances require it.

Commander BELLAIRS

I am afraid my hon. Friend (Sir J. D. Rees) will draw on himself a reproof which I drew from the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs some time ago when I mentioned the question of the Declaration of London. He said I had not got rid of my pre-war mind. I shall endeavour to avoid that reproof again, but I am bound to point out that the Foreign Office undoubtedly hampered us in this War by their adoption of the Declaration of London in the first instance. The effect of that was that we issued a prize manual to the British Navy in 1914 embodying all the worse features of the Declaration of London. This we subsequently rectified. You will find, in addition, that in consequence of our affirmation of the Declaration of London the Germans in November raised the question that we were violating its conditions. Of course, the Foreign Office had a complete answer. The Declaration of London was in precisely the same condition as treaties which had not been ratified by the Senate, and that was the position. But it led to many delays. Nearly all the delays which have taken place, such as in making cotton contraband, have been due to that Declaration. When one contrasts what was done by Lincoln when he declared a blockade within seven days of the declaration of war, I am afraid the record of the Foreign Office is deplorable. It took, I think, three and a half months before they seized enemy reservists. It took ten months before they used the weapon of our coal exports against Sweden and Denmark and Norway to encourage them to help us in our efforts to blockade. It took thirteen months before they declared cotton contraband, though, of course, I know the Foreign Office contend that they were interfering with cotton long before they made it contraband; and, finally, it took seventeen months before we dealt with the mails, which was one of the special things in the Declaration of London, and before we dealt with ships which were masquerading under neutral flags. I do not know whether that question of German ships under neutral flags is in a satisfactory position even now. I attribute all these delays to the Declara- tion of London. What I think my hon. Friend is pleading for is a real blockade, in which you apply all the penalties of blockade, including the confiscation of the ships and cargo, as was done by the Americans in the Civil War. He pointed out that it was by applying the full rigour of our sea power that we brought Napoleon's domination of the Continent TO an end. It might be equally well pointed out that by applying the full rigour of sea power and blockade Lincoln brought the American Civil War to an end. If, for instance, Russia had been hampered in the Black Sea by contiguous neutral territories passing things through to Armenia I doubt very much whether Erzerum would have fallen. The fact of the matter is that, there being no neutral territories through which the Turkish army could be supplied, Russia was able to interfere with the shipping and cargoes which went into Turkish Armenia. If we were only to extend the doctrine of continuous voyage as it was carried out by America we should be able to interfere very considerably with these neutral countries in the same way. I know the Foreign Office say there are very considerable risks. In fact, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster reproved us the other day, and said that we critics who want this rigorous blockade carried out know perfectly well the reasons why the Foreign Office cannot act, and yet we go on criticising them. My answer is that we are not the least impressed by those reasons. I know there is a way of getting hold of Members, and telling them of so called secret risks, and some are silenced by these communications. It is a method which was well known to Cagliostro, who was a bit of a diplomat, I think. He used to say to his friends, "Your soul is attuned to mine, and I will make you participator in all my secrets," and there are a great many Members who share the secrets of the Foreign Office. But so far as I have heard the reasons, I am not the least bit impressed by them. They consist in this, that there are certain risks to this country if we were to take more drastic action with the neutrals, as is perfectly true. But I think the Foreign Office have a way of estimating the risks to ourselves without balancing them sufficiently against the risks of the enemy. I hope there will be great changes consequent upon the appointment of a Minister of Blockade. Everyone hopes for great things from my Noble Friend, but so long as we go on in the way we are going on we shall continue to say, although the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs objects to our saying so, that the Navy is hampered in its efforts. In fact, I would say the Navy is being made the shuttlecock of political expediency.

There is one other point that I wish to raise, and that is that as we are applying this system of trusting to the neutrals, we ought to have sufficient people to watch our interests in those neutral countries. We have a Danish agreement. We have these changes coming one by one, and each time we are told that is finality. I myself cheered the Prime Minister for all I was worth last March when he made that declaration that it was our intention to prevent goods of all kinds from going into Germany or coming out. I was very much impressed, but in a few months we found it was not the case. I was a little impressed with what I could hear about the Danish agreement, but I very much fear these things are like what happened once when a great sculptor was employed to make a statue of snow. He made a beautiful statue but it melted away, and I fear this Danish agreement may come to the same fate. It must depend to a large extent on whom we have to watch over our affairs. When I come to look up the lists of our representatives in Denmark, I find that we have three Consuls in Copenhagen, but outside Copenhagen we have only one Consul who is of British nationality. At Aarhus, which is the capital of Jutland, a very great port and a great city which has double railway tracks into Germany and steamship lines going to Germany, there is no British Consul, and we are represented by a Dane. We should take our courage in both hands, and demand from these neutrals the right to be represented by Consular authorities in the same way as Germany. That would, I think, satisfy most of us. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was very curt with me when I asked a question about Lord Faringdon's Report. I think we are entitled to ask how long Lord Faringdon spent in Copenhagen. He only went to Copenhagen, and as a result of his Report we are told that of the trade that goes into Denmark very little is passing into Germany. The Secretary for Foreign Affairs said his only object in keeping the Report secret was to prevent the important information in it getting into the hands of the Germans. I have seen the Report. It is very contradictory. It abounds with buts and its, and in one part it certainly contradicts the statement that very little is passing into Germany, that is is regard to cargoes that go to Malmo. As a matter of fact, Lord Faring-don, whose great ability we all recognise as well as the high prestige he possesses in the business world, only spent five days in Denmark. He never went out of Copenhagen. That is not enough to enable him to pronounce on such a question. I think it requires the evidence of many Consuls who have resided there for a considerable time.

My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Yate) has raised the question of Consuls and their relation to the diplomatic service. The Consuls are under the direction of the diplomatic service, but my information is that Consuls in Denmark are not allowed to visit the ports and watch the destination of cargoes. The British Ministers will not allow them to do it. I do not see how the Foreign Office can ever hope to get proper information under such circumstances. I understand they rely to a considerable extent on the head of the Danish United Shipping Company for information. The head of that company controls 135 steamers which trade largely between Denmark and Germany. What makes me suspicious as to his information is that while Norway has lost twenty-six steamers from mines and torpedoes, the Danish United Shipping Company, with 135 steamers, has lost two, and that was at the beginning of the War. That might have happened then as a lesson in German frightfulness, and after that my belief is that he became to a very great extent the obedient slave of Germany, at any rate this company has succeeded although the dangers threatened are much greater than the dangers threatening the Norwegian ships in carrying on its steamship trade without losing a single steamer since then. However much we may trust to Denmark to furnish us with information as to what is passing to Germany, I would much rather rely on the efforts of our Consuls, if we are not to have the complete efforts of our Navy available. I would like to see our Consular staff in Denmark considerably increased. We have a complete right to be represented in Denmark on the same scale as Germany is represented there Until you insist on your rights it will continue to be the case that in Denmark, in the view of foreigners, in the view of Danes, of Englishmen and Germans, that Germany occupies the bed of honour and England the truckle bed.


I should like to associate myself with many of the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friends who have spoken on the Consular service. I would particularly like to draw the attention of the House and of the Government to a resolution which was passed at a great meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce held in London last week, which was honoured by the presence of the Colonial Secretary and other distinguished persons. The resolution was as follows: That the present Consular arrangements are not of an adequate nature and that steps be taken to re-organise the Consular service with a view to providing better facilities for the maintenance and expansion of the trade of the Empire. That was passed unanimously by that great gathering of business men. The necessity for that resolution is borne out by the fact that the Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee of the Board of Trade, which has recently issued a report under the heading of "Consular Service," says: The organisation of the Consular service should be dealt with so soon as possible after the completion of the report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, with a view to an increase of its commercial utility. The Royal Commission has reported, but the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) told me to-day apparently it is not possible during the War to take any notice of its recommendation. Therefore, we have a distinct conflict between the views of the commercial community, represented by the Associated Chambers of Commerce, supported by the Advisory Committee of the Board of Trade, and the views held by the Foreign Office. From the point of view of the commercial men of this country it is because we are at war, and because the War is changing everything, that it is absolutely necessary now that we should make a fresh start and look at our Consular Service in the light of the experience which we have gained in this War. The main points of complaint, so far as I can gather from the commercial community, are these: (1) That a Consular career, although it has been somewhat improved as a result of recommendations from the Chambers of Commerce, does not yet offer sufficient inducements to the class of men best calculated to serve national commercial interests, the prizes being few, the promotions slow, and the pay on the whole poor; (2) that the Consulates are frequently understaffed, with the result that the Consuls are too busy with the other details of their office to devote sufficient time to what ought to be their main duty, namely, the maintenance and expansion of British commerce; (3) that there are too few salaried and too many unsalaried Consular officers, and that these unsalaried officers are far too often persons not of British nationality, but whose national and personal interests are frequently opposed to British national interests, and that this, so far from being economical, is merely being penny wise and pound foolish.

I will endeavour to make these points good. I need not dwell upon the question of a Consular career being somewhat unattractive as compared with other careers, because I think that every Report of every Committee and every Commission which has dealt with this subject in recent years has admitted that fact, and that every one of these Reports has contained some suggestion for making the Service more attractive. At the present day it is still found not to be sufficiently attractive to gather ino the Consular Service men who are best suited to further the interests of this country commercially abroad. It is more than ever important now that we should draw into the Consular Service men of the right class who are likely to be useful, because we all know that after the War is over it will be more than ever necessary for us to keep up the volume of our exports, and that we shall have not only to meet the old competition, but we shall have to meet serious competition in new quarters. As regards the under-staffing of Consular offices I do not need to say much. Every commercial man who has been abroad and who has been brought into close contact with our Consulates is aware of the fact that these Consulates are very frequently understaffed. If the Foreign Office will look at their records I think that they will find that year after year they have received complaints on this very point from our Consular officers themselves. The third point, which is really the most important point, is one which has been touched upon by both my hon. and gallant Friends. Before the War, out of 653 of our unsalaried Consular representatives abroad, no less than 268, or 45 per cent., were of foreign nationality. Out of these 268, 44 were Germans or Austrians. In answer to a question which I put to the Noble Lord to-day he informed me that in 1913 in Germany, among our unsalaried Consular officers, of whom there were 37, 8 were of British nationality and 29 were of German nationality. How can we expect that the Consular Service is going to do what it ought to do for this country if we find that in that one country alone no less than 29 out of 37 of our Consular officers were of German nationality? How could you expect that these men were going to push British interests as against German interests? It is incredible!

I went into a British Consulate in Germany two years ago. The Union Jack was flying over the building, and I wanted information with the object of diverting some commerce from German channels into British channels. I asked to see the Consul. I may say that I had a special introduction to the Consul from the Foreign Office and to the Consuls generally. I was shown into a private office, and a very urbane German gentleman came in to see me and informed me that he was the British Consul there. It was absolutely impossible for me even to broach to that man the object of my visit. How could I ask him to assist me in diverting trade from German channels into British channels? Therefore I did not broach the subject at all. He was very affable. He gave me a cigar, which was a very bad one, but it was very much better than his information, because on certain points which I addressed to him he gave me information which to my knowledge was absolutely erroneous. I do not know that I could blame him. He knew that I was a Britisher trying to further British interests at the expense of Germany, and although he was the British Consul by name, and entitled to wear British uniform, he naturally was not going to give away the interests of his nationality in order to benefit British nationality. There is another case with which the Noble Lord is familiar. It is the case of a certain neutral merchant in a neutral country who had on his letter-paper, "Imperial German Consul" and underneath "British Vice-Consul."

7.0 P.M.

And this particular Vice-Consul was actually trading with Germany six months after the War began! As long as we rely upon economy of that kind we are certainly not studying economy in the broad national sense; we are merely saving a £100 here and there, and losing thousands of pounds in making these paltry savings. The Noble Lord, in replying to the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Melton (Colonel Yate) yesterday, gave information in regard to the Consular Service in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, from which it would appear that for every British Consular servant we have three of foreign nationalities. I believe that we have been trying in past years to run our Consular Service too much on the cheap. We all know that the things that are cheap are very often nasty. We have got the cheapness, and I think we have some of the nastiness.

As an example of how cheaply we try to do these things, losing sight of efficiency thereby, I may mention what my hon. and gallant Friend has referred to already, that is the answer which the Noble Lord gave a few weeks ago when I asked what was the percentage of the cost of our Consular Service in America as compared with the value of our exports to that country. His reply was that it was .05 per cent.; in other words, the cost of our Consular Service amounts to 1s. for every £100 of our exports to that country, or, to put it in other words, the cost was the twentieth part of 1 per cent. I submit that is too cheap and that it might pay us very much better to increase these minute percentages if thereby we could increase the volume of our trade with those countries. The Noble Lord said, in answer to another question to-day or yesterday, that Britishers have been and will be appointed so far as is possible at all places where their presence is necessary. Who is to be the judge as to how far it is possible to appoint a British Consul in a place, and who is to be the judge as to whether it is necessary? Are the Government going to consult the British merchants, the men who know? Because, after all, the Foreign Office are not always in a position to say whether it is or is not necessary or possible to appoint a British Consul in a certain place, and I have never yet heard of the Foreign Office making any inquiry from responsible mercantile bodies in this country as to whether it is possible or necessary to appoint British Consuls in these various places.

I should like to show how important it is that we should have reliable British officers in these various salaried or unsalaried positions in as many places as possible. Very good work is being done by the Commercial Intelligence Department of the Board of Trade. They issue to those who pay a subscription of a guinea a year what are called Special or Confidential Reports. I think that there are between two and three thousand subscribers, which shows what a desire there is for such information in this country. Two or three thousand people pay a guinea a year, not for the privilege of getting the Board of Trade Journal, but for the privilege of getting these special reports; and if a merchant in this country wishes to investigate any problem abroad, he can, if he subscribes to the Intelligence Department, put in an inquiry which is sent from the Board of Trade to the Foreign Office and then goes out to the Consul of the country affected, and that Consul in a very large number of cases has to pass this inquiry oh to these unsalaried Vice-Consuls or unsalaried Consuls. And the reply which comes back to this country is based in the large majority of cases on the information which is given by these unsalaried officers; and here again we come to the point that if these unsalaried officers are foreigners, if they have no particular interest in this country, if they are more largely interested in the welfare of other countries, then the information which comes back to this country is tainted at its source. It may not only be valueless, it may be absolutely misleading; and the two or three thousand people who pay their guinea a year for these special reports are, in a certain number of cases, undoubtedly receiving reports which are not calculated to assist the British trader, but are calculated very likely to keep him out of the way or put him on the wrong track.

For instance, take those twenty-nine Germans to whom I have referred, who were Consular officers in Germany. Does any sane man suppose that during the last five or ten years these men have sent home to this country information which is likely to be of any great service to this country or to the detriment of Germany? Knowing what we know, can we believe that such a thing is likely? It is incredible, and has been such a blot upon the Consular Service that it must be taken into very serious consideration by the proper people. This question of the Consular Service has never been taken into consideration by the proper people. By the proper people I mean men who understand the international trade of this country, men who do business abroad, who know the various markets, and who know what is required. Consider for a moment the composition of the Royal Commission on Civil Service which was appointed in 1912. The Report of that Commission was made up at the begin- ning of the War, and was, I think, issued on the 14th October, 1914. That Royal Commission had to inquire into the whole of the Civil Service, and as to very many branches of the Civil Service it was no doubt an excellent Commission. But was that Royal Commission one which any reasonable person could suppose was calculated to form a correct opinion as to the requirements of British merchants in foreign countries?

I do not propose to offer any opinion, but merely to read out, very briefly, how that Commission was constituted. It consisted of one bishop, one duke, three eminent lawyers, an eminent physician, a railway manager, an ex-Colonial Secretary, two university professors, two labour leaders, two ladies, two shipowners, one person whose occupation I have been unable to trace, and two permanent officials. Does it not seem ludicrous that the question of Consular Service should be submitted to be adjudicated upon by a Commission of those very eminent people who no doubt have a very wide knowledge of everything except this one subject which is of such great importance to commercial men of this country? In conclusion, I may ask the Noble Lord a very definite question, to which I hope he will be able to give a definite and favourable reply Will the Government enter into consultation with the Associated Chambers of Commerce in regard to appointing as soon as possible a Committee of business men conversant with the requirements of British commerce in all parts of the world in order that they may draw up a considered report as to changes, if any, which should be made in the Consular Service in the light of the experience of this War, and with the object of using the Consular Service in the best way in the national interests of this Empire as a whole?


My hon. Friend who has just sat down has concluded his valuable speech by asking me a very definite question, and he is perfectly entitled to an answer. I may remind him that he had not told me that he was going to ask me that question, and therefore I am afraid that it would not be right for me to give him as definite and as clear a reply as I could wish to. I will say this at once on my own responsibility, that the suggestion which he makes appears to me to be extremely valuable, and though it would not be right for me to say that the Government will act upon it immediately, I will certainly convey my own favourable opinion to those with whom the final decision must rest. I agree, generally speaking myself, that great changes will have to be made as the result partly of the changes produced by the War, and partly as the result of the experience which this War has forced upon us. I myself feel that it would no longer do to act as if it was possible to proceed upon the theory that trade is a matter with which Governments have no concern, and that the less they interfere with it the better. That was the theory on which we proceeded for many years. But I am convinced myself that we cannot proceed nowadays upon that theory to the extent which we have proceeded upon it in times past. I have no doubt that as part of the change which we shall have to make we shall have to make very considerable changes in our Consular Services. It would be quite easy for me to point out various matters as to which I could meet the criticisms of my hon. Friends. I could point out that the amounts of the rewards that we give to our Consuls, though they may not be very great are yet not markedly inferior to those which obtain in other Departments of the Civil Service, and I could say a great deal about under-staffing, too. I could even say something about allegations that there are too few salaried and too many unsalaried officers. I prefer to, say quite frankly that I think that a great many changes must be made. And as I prefer to make that broad admission I think that it is not worth my while or the while of the House to examine in detail the particular matters whch have been mentioned by my hon. Friend. The only thing I do say is this, I think that any Government which has to consider these changes must make up its mind as to what it desires from its Consul My hon. Friend who has just spoken thinks that it is a great mistake to treat Consuls as part of the Diplomatic Service. It is his suggestion, I think, that the Foreign Office should have nothing to do with it.


I did not suggest that. What I desired was to express my commiseration with the Foreign Office on the fact that at a time like this, when they are so busy, they are burdened with the Consular Service.


I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend, but it is a great difficulty, even on a subject of such importance to the country, to deal with it at a time like the present, and I think he will recognise that it is almost impossible to expect any Department of the Government to initiate great changes at this time. Another suggestion which has been made is that we should consult and collect information in order to make those changes at the end of the War. I speak with great deference in the presence of my hon. Friend, but I think it is a mistake to regard our Consuls as a kind of glorified commercial traveller. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I think he will agree with me, further, when I say that they ought to be officers of the Foreign Commercial Intelligence Department of the Government. They ought to be officers to collect and to co-ordinate all the information which is serviceable and available to the traders of this country. They ought not to inquire with a view to pushing a particular trader's interest; they ought to be machinery by which information and knowledge is acquired for our trading purposes. If we are once agreed upon that as our object, I quite agree with my hon. Friend—within the limits placed upon us by the Treasury—that it is desirable that we should have more Consular officers, that their prospects should be better, and that their pay should be better. I cannot promise that it will be so, but it is a matter which will be considered. I think if we provide a greater number of Consuls they ought to be able to devote their whole time to the commercial public, and we might have a trade commissioner or superior officer in the various countries dealing with the Consular Service, and we ought undoubtedly to provide for some system of Consular inspection. Speaking for myself, I am quite confident that anyone who undertakes to carry out any changes on these lines will be very foolish unless he takes account of commercial authorities, and avails himself of their knowledge, experience, and reports, which I am quite sure the Government, whatever may be said of it, are always ready to do. In connection with the Consuls my hon. and gallant Friend made some observations about our want of Consuls in the Scandinavian countries.

Commander BELLAIRS



Denmark? I will look into that again; but I must remind my hon. and gallant Friend that it is not true to say that the Government have altogether neglected that matter. We have increased very largely the diplomatic staff in all those countries, and although it may be true of this important place, Denmark—I do not wish to throw any doubt upon it at all—yet I think he will agree that the trade of Denmark is undoubtedly in Copenhagen, and the great national oversea trade with which we have to deal goes through Copenhagen. I have not got the figures, but I think it will be found that the proportion which goes through Copenhagen is overwhelming compared with that through any other port in that country. In regard to Copenhagen, we have increased our diplomatic staff, and added to it a number of people well qualified and of ability. Quite recently several appointments have been made; we have appointed a commercial adviser there of considerable experience, and not drawn from the diplomatic service at all. Our commercial interests are now in thoroughly capable hands. I will look into the matter again and see whether there are any further appointments to be made. We have, of course, been guided very largely by the views of our representatives there, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we have not stinted these appointments at all, and wherever any particular appointment has been recommended, we have hastened to make that appointment without delay.

I now pass to the familiar question of what we are doing with reference to the blockade. That fell into two main parts, or rather the topic was put in two different ways. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Bees) and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) apparently regard as the fountain of evil the Declaration of London. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham made a number of detailed criticisms, to which I venture to make some reply. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I say that I do not think he really has fully appreciated what is the nature of the Declaration of London. The Declaration of London is; for the most part, overwhelmingly the most part, a restatement of the rules of international law which were perfectly familiar and agreed upon by all authorities on the subject before the Declaration of London.

Sir J. D. REES

Before the Declaration of Paris?


No; the Declaration of London is intended to be a codification of international law as it existed at that date, and not before the Declaration of Paris.


It was more than a codification; it was an alteration.


I am merely stating what was intended by the Declaration of London. Though there were some very important changes introduced, we are now, I think, all of us agreed—I believe the greater part of us—that they were changes for the worse. I think we are all agreed about that. But a large portion of the articles to which the hon. Member for Nottingham referred are really only a restatement—that is my impression; I do not know, but it is intended to be, so far as I know, only a restatement—of the rules of international law, which are quite apart from the Declaration of London. I do not want to particularise, but we may take, for instance, the doctrine about the interruption of that part which deals with blockade. All those articles are intended, and I believe the most part are—I say that generally, and I do not want to commit myself—to be a restatement of the ordinary rules which you will find in any text-book.

Sir J. D. REES

But there is a restatement purporting to be a statement of the existing law as altered by the Declaration of Paris. My object was to claim that the alterations made by the Declaration of Paris were subsequent, and the restatement, therefore, is an erroneous one.


That is an entirely different point and was not made by my hon. Friend in his speech, and it is not a point which bears upon this question. The Declaration of Paris no longer binds us, so far as Germany is concerned, bat no one will contend for a moment that anything which has been done makes the Declaration of Paris less vital between us and neutrals. Perhaps I might put it a little stronger, but at any rate that is the purport of what is the position between ourselves and neutrals in regard to the Declaration of Paris, and other matters of that sort. I think it unfortunate that any hon. Member in this House or elsewhere should indulge in any statements that this country ought not to be bound by the rules of international law or anything of that kind. It produces the worst possible impression, and it makes it absolutely necessary for a Minister to get up and say, as I do say, that I entirely disagree with the proposition, and it really does not advance the hon. Member at all. I do venture to ask hon. Members to recollect how closely their words are scanned in quarters of which, perhaps, they have not the least idea, and when they speak in this House there is no doubt they are speaking to people in other countries. I am not talking about Germany. There are neutral countries where they are very closely watching us, and it is of the very greatest importance that nothing should be said, even by private Members of this House, which might add to the great difficulties which already rest upon the Government in dealing with neutral countries.

Let me pass to the broad question which my hon. Friend desires to put. He desires the definite abandonment of the Declaration of London. I have constantly told the House that, in my view, the Declaration of London is an instrument which has no binding force whatever. The position with regard to this country is that certain parts, only certain parts, were selected at the outbreak of the War by the Government of the day as embodying what they believed to be the principle of international law applicable to belligerent conditions, and believing that to be the case they have agreed, and they think it a convenient form, to refer to the Declaration of London as embodying it. But the Government never intended—at any rate, this Government does not intend—to be bound by the Declaration of London, apart from and so far as it differs from the principle of international law which prevailed at the outbreak of the War. I very much doubt, and it is very much doubted by lawyers, whether the issue of an Order in Council that the Government intend to adopt the Declaration of London would bind the Prize Court, and it is a matter of great doubt, in point of fact, if that Declaration contained principles and doctrines which were not in accordance with the principles of international law. But I cannot make it too clear whether that is so or not, the policy of the Government is to abide by the principles of international law whether they are in favour of or against us, and to adhere to them, and them only, and it is only so far as the Declaration of London embodies those principles that they have any intention of being bound by its provisions.

Commander BELLAIRS

I trust my right hon. Friend does not exclude the ex- tension of the law to meet new conditions brought about by modern inventions and changed conditions?


Of course I do not That is why I used over and over again the words "principles of international law." The subject is so delicate and so dangerous that I am anxious not to say too much.

Commander BELLAIRS

That is all I want


If they are changes in principles, they ought not to be made, but if they are merely applying the principles to new conditions, that is not a change. All English lawyers are profoundly familiar with that. It is just as the ordinary growth of case law. You have your principle of law which is applied to the particular circumstances of each case, and the rulings thereupon being made make new definitions of the principle of law, which none the less always existed before those decisions. That is what I intended to convey, and that is, I think, the only sound view. Whether it would or would not be right to make a change in the form of our Orders in Council adopting the Declaration of London seems to me a matter well worthy of consideration. I hope my hon. Friend will not think me impertinent if I say that his speech convinces me that there is so much profound misapprehension on the subject that it may be well worth while to put the matter more clearly than it has been put up to the present. I do not mean it as any insult to him, but when a Gentleman of his knowledge and attainment can misread the position of affairs so completely, as I gather from his speech he has done, then it is obvious that many other people must have fallen into a like mistake and therefore it is a matter well worthy of consideration, of course after consultation with our Allies, whether it would be desirable to restate in some form or other the Orders in Council so as to avoid those misapprehensions.

Let me say a word about the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). I was very sorry to hear him say that the Navy was hampered. I have had the opportunity of seeing all the Orders to the Fleet, and I can find no trace of any such hampering. The hon. and gallant Gentleman recommends what he calls a "real blockade." I hate those general phrases. I wish he could tell me exatly—I do not mean now, but at some other time— what it is he means. If it means that we are to prohibit all commerce going to and coming out of neutral countries, that is a policy which I am quite sure this House would never sanction and no Government would propose. If he means the definite blockade of German ports in so far as it is practicable, and I agree it has never been declared in so many words, then that is in existence at the present moment. I am not quite sure what is meant by this phrase of a "real blockade." I do know that such legal opinion as I have been able to consult agrees with my own impression that to make any Declaration of Blockade, as we should have to do under the ordinary rules of international law, defining the limits and showing where the line of blockade was to be, if we attempted to do anything of that kind I think we should find ourselves in much greater legal difficulties than we find ourselves in at the present time. I do not see that we should get anything whatever by doing so. My hon. and gallant Friend said. Why not apply the doctrine of continuous voyage? We have applied it and worked it, and it is the very foundation of the whole of the action which we have taken. You cannot blockade an enemy through a neutral country except by the operation of that dectrine. Our plan is to arrest all com merce of Germany, whether going in or coming out, whether it comes through a neutral port or a German port; that is the whole object and the whole difficulty of our position. We have to discover for certain what is German and what is neutral commerce. I cannot understand what more you can do by blockade—

Commander BELLAIRS

Without dealing with the matter as a whole, may I ask why does not the Government carry out the practice of confiscating the ships and cargo that they are entitled to confiscate? That is the great deterrent.


If you were to declare a blockade on a fixed line you might confiscate any ship that broke the blockade, but, after all, your object is to destroy enemy commerce if you can do that without running such risks as we would run in the other case. As far as exports are concerned, where we know what German trade really is, it is much easier to ascertain, and we have in fact stopped substantially the whole of the German overseas export trade. It is not our instrument that is ineffective. The difficulty is to know exactly what German trade is, and as far as the greater part of it is concerned the whole of the goods now are seized and confiscated. Therefore, you would gain nothing except the chance of being able to confiscate a few more ships. I cannot think that that would be a wise policy or a policy that would really facilitate the operations. I am quite sure of this, if you were to adopt any such policy you would only increase the difficulties under which you are working without increasing at all the facilities for arresting German commerce.

This I will say in conclusion: The vital thing is to succeed in stopping German commerce. I believe we have a perfect right to do that by every principle of international law. I believe it is perfectly legitimate for a belligerent to cut off all commerce from his enemy and to destroy and injure it by economic pressure exerted to the fullest extent quite as much as by any military operation. I am sure it is not only a legitimate and effective but that it is also a humane method. I am quite sure that since this country has the power to exercise it this country ought to do so to the full. With that I think we ought to combine absolute respect for the rights of other nations. We ought to set an example of law-abiding and just treatment even of the smaller nations, and I believe myself that that policy, which I am convinced is right and in accordance with the best principles of British conduct in the past, is also the wisest and effective policy if we desire to carry out the main object of all these operations, namely, the destruction of the power of the enemy.