HC Deb 26 February 1918 vol 103 cc1268-307

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,085, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1918, for Salaries and Expenses of the Overseas Trade Department."


On this Vote, I think, we are entitled to some information. The Government had an opportunity the other day, when they introduced the Supplemental Estimates, to explain why they wanted this money. Before "we agree to the passing of this Vote, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman who has charge of the Vote to tell us for what purpose this money is wanted?

Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND (Undersecretary of State, Department of Overseas Trade)

I will gladly tell my hon. Friend the purpose for which this money is wanted. Last summer a considerable difference of opinion had arisen as to how the com- mercial services of the Government abroad should be administered. It was a difference of opinion of long standing. It had been thought that, on the whole, this service, being of a. commercial nature, ought to be under the control of the Board of Trade. On the other hand, it was known that our representatives dealing with commercial matters abroad had to work in close contact with the diplomatic missions, and, of course, it is always true that no commercial question of magnitude can be raised abroad without its possibly having a diplomatic side. There were these two views on the question. It was a difficult matter —as it has been right throughout the history of the whole question for many years—to say whether this service appertains, rather, to the Foreign Office or to the Board of Trade. It was a difficulty which was felt, not only in this country, but in the United States and in Germany. In the end, after consideration of the matter, it was determined to try to deal with it by a new method. The conclusion was reached that probably the best way of dealing with it would be by instituting a new joint department of the two public offices, to be called the Department of Overseas Trade, and a Supplementary Estimate providing enough money to carry on for this year is the subject now before the Committee.

I am not sure whether the hon. Member wishes for further information as to the detailed work, but if so, I shall be glad to give it to him. It is quite simple. The new Department at home is a composite Department, and for that reason it is an experiment in administration. I do not propose to go into the merits of the question as to why it was set up, because that would be almost indecent as I should be discussing the pre-matrimonial differences of my parents, the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. The working is comparatively simple. A certain number of officers are contributed, on the one hand, by the Foreign Office, and, on the other hand, by the Board of Trade, and the new Department is responsible to both; but its responsibility is allocated to one or other, according to the matter which conies up. It controls the foreign services which have to do with commercial matters, or, rather, it controls them at the present time in a large part, and it is contemplated that in future it will control them in their entirety.

The services abroad are of three different kinds. One kind consists of officers for the British Empire, who are Trade Commissioners. Of these, there were four previously, and they will in future consist of sixteen. Of this number thirteen have actually been sanctioned, and three are under consideration. Of the thirteen who have been sanctioned, if I remember rightly, nine have actually been appointed, and the tenth has been selected, but the actual appointment has not yet been signed. That deals with the British Empire. On the other hand, the foreign services with regard to commerce consist of two parts—the Commercial Attachés and the Consuls. For the time being the Commercial Attachés are under this new Joint Department, while temporarily the Consuls arc still dealt with by the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office. There is little likelihood of friction, because while looking after the new Department as Undersecretary I also preside over the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office as Under-Secretary. Therefore, collision is not likely to occur.

The Commercial Attaché Service existed before, and the proposal is to expand it very considerably, to reorganise the whole of it, and also to reorganise the service of Consuls. The reorganised Commercial Attaché Service, in so far as it can be Carried out, has been carried out. Sanction has already been obtained from the Treasury for a somewhat reduced scheme, but not the whole of what the Treasury were asked for. At any rate, sanction has been given for as large a proportion of the posts as can properly and usefully be filled during the coming year. That is all under the new Joint Department. The Consular side is not in question this afternoon, but if I am not out of order, I may say that the whole of that, too, is under consideration at the present moment, in order to make it adequate for the requirements which it has got to meet after the War. Later on in the Estimates for the coming year there will come up for discussion the whole of the Commercial Attaché Service, and on that can be raised the duties which the Commercial Attachés are expected to undertake; also the whole of the Trade Commissioner Service for the British Empire, and the duties which they are expected to undertake; and, of course, the home establishment. I have given an outline, or a skeleton, of the organisation of the new Department. I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee by giving more details than are necessary, but if there be any other item of information that is desired, I will very gladly give it.

There is one point which is the real justification for taking this matter in hand now, and it is this: In this country before the War everyone was too content to allow questions of the development of our foreign trade and of our commercial rivals to go unanalysed, and competition to go on without being properly met. What has been realised to an increasing degree since the War began is the very definite system of commercial penetration of foreign countries which was pursued by the Germans before the War. It is necessary under modern conditions that we should have, not only up-to-date information about ordinary questions of the selling of goods, and whether our goods are as good as other people's goods, whether they are the goods that are required, and whether the quotations are made in the proper currency, in the proper weights, and so on. But there is a need of a proper analysis and report from the different foreign countries of the whole methods of banking, finance, transport, and all the other factors that enter into commerce as an organised system. The Consuls will, of course, be expected in the different foreign countries to deal adequately with their own particular towns where they are situated and the districts over which they have charge. The duty of the Commercial Attaché will be to keep the Government informed as to what is going on with regard to the general financial development and the whole economic state of foreign countries, to inspect the Consuls, and to see that they do their duties properly, and to keep a constant watch for the benefit of British trade, in order to inform them, so as to see that if any new system of commercial penetration be attempted by our rivals in the future, it shall be at any rate clearly understood, and that knowledge shall be put at the disposal of the British trading community.


I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for the very short statement which he has made, and I would say this, that if the average business Member of this House had under- stood that, under the words "Class II., Vote 8 a," there was being raised this afternoon a compendium of the machinery which is being created to deal with the commercial warfare for the future, there would have been a larger attendance of Members. I think the Government are doing themselves an injustice when they attempt to take a Vote of this kind without any explanatory statement, and it is a commentary on the methods, not on my hon. Friend, whom I thank quite frankly for what he has said, but of those who are responsible for business, that they should attempt to get a Vote of this kind through without giving some statement of policy and some information to the Committee. What is meant by the statement of my hon. Friend? What he is dealing with is the creation of an entirely new system for dealing with the future trade of this country outside these Islands. Incidentally he has explained to the Committee his own situation, which is so indelicate that he cannot even discuss his own parentage. On that point I think the Committee is entitled to have some more information in regard to the rather extraordinary, or perhaps it would be better to say the peculiar, nature of this arrangement. My hon. Friend has one foot in the Foreign Office and the other in the Board of Trade. I do not know whether either of those feet being in either of those offices is in the grave or not, but in the past the system which has obtained from either of these Departments has not been perfect. My hon. Friend has apparently been sent to a Department which is going to attempt to make the best of the arrangement. We are entitled, before we allow the Government to have this Vote, to know whether this experiment, which has now been run so long that out of sixteen of the appointments which are to be made as Trade Commissioners to the British Empire thirteen have actually been appointed—


I said that thirteen have been sanctioned and ten have been selected.


In that case, what about the countries with which we are at war now? Do the sixteen Trade Commissioners include the belligerent countries'? Take the case of Russia. Presumably my hon. Friend is looking forward to the time when the huge commercial proposition in Russia will require to be dealt with, and we shall have to have Trade Commissioners for Russia. Russia is not the only one of the belligerent countries. I should like to know whether the ten who have actually been appointed or the thirteen who have been chosen cover those countries which are not at the moment belligerent countries, or whether he can tell us in how many of those belligerent countries, or, if Russia is now a neutral country, in how many of those neutral countries his Department has had the prevision to appoint someone who will be a link between the commercial communities in those countries and the commercial community in this country, which will obviously desire to enter into commercial negotiations as rapidly as possible after the declaration of peace? My hon. Friend may say that the remarks he has made are preliminary remarks to the discussion which I am perfectly certain he is glad should arise in this House, because if there is one thing more evident than another to Members of this House from experience abroad it is that the old system which we knew before the War was by no means the best system for dealing with the commercial relations between this country and people abroad. I remember myself, for instance, making a rather detailed journey through Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, and I was never able in any one of those countries to get information from the Consuls. One found over and over again that the Consuls in various towns in those countries performed a social function, which may be very desirable as far as the ruling powers in those countries are concerned: but if you wanted information what could be translated into money, which, after all, it is the business of commercial representatives in those countries to give, the last person in the world to whom you can think of applying in any of those countries is the British Consul.

I should like to know whether my hon. Friend can give us the names and the qualifications of the ten gentlemen who have been appointed, and let us know whether these gentlemen have been drafted from the Civil Service of this country? When I say that, I do not mean to imply that you cannot find in the Civil Service of this country men qualified for these posts. I am not making that aspersion at all, but I wish to know whether we have men drawn from that kind of service or whether those men have been appointed on account of their business experience and standing in this country. It is perfectly certain that other Members of this House, men probably having a closer connection with the business interests of this country than I possess, would feel a certain amount of assurance if they were acquainted with the names and qualifications of the gentlemen who have been appointed. A second point which arises is as to the dual arrangement by which the Consulate is still under the Foreign Office, and the Commercial Attachéis under the Board of Trade. I understood that that was what my hon. Friend said.


I said that the Department was a Joint Department equally of the Foreign Office and of the Board of Trade. The Commercial Attachés have been already transferred to the new Department, and it is intended that the Consuls should be transferred as soon as the difficulties of housing accommodation allow this to be done.


That interruption of my hon. Friend raises a very serious point. As I understand, the arrangement is this: In future there will be transferred to this Department, for which he is responsible to this House, the Consuls who have been appointed in the past by the Foreign Office, in addition to the Commercial Attaches who have been appointed now and who are already transferred to his Department. If that be so, obviously it raises a very important question, which no Member of the House could have imagined was going to be raised this afternoon. It means that the Foreign Office is being deprived of a certain number of its functions, the appointment of British Consuls and the looking after of British interests especially in very remote corners of the world, and that these are now being handed over to the Department specially created, which is like Mahomet's coffin, between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, between heaven and earth—I do not know which is which—under a new Minister who, after all, has only got the status of an Under-Secretary. I do not blame him for that—it is not his fault—but his Department is going to deal with the appointment of Consuls and Commercial Attachés all over the world, and obviously is going to be one of the great Departments of State which is going to attract to it the attention of all the business people of this country. I see present my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. McKinnon Wood), who was at the Foreign Office before the Coalition had an accident, and he may be able to tell us what he thinks as to how this arrangement is going to work, and whether this new expedient of setting up a new office, with only an Under-Secretary in this House to deal with those two large questions, is the best and most businesslike way of dealing with great problems of the kind. It has been alleged of this and other Governments that their last concern is the concern of the business man of this country. I do not think that you will impress the business man of the country when he knows that the channel through which he is to secure information about his business in other countries is to be transferred to a minor Department of the State, and that that is the only proposition of the Government for dealing with a very large problem of this kind after the War.

My hon. Friend dealt with the question of our development in foreign trade. The Committee will be very glad to know what steps my hon. Friend and his Department are taking in the matter. He mentioned such things as information with regard to banking, transport, the adoption of the decimal system, and the analysis in foreign countries of such trades as it might be suggested men and industries in this country might engage. I might ask also as to the scope of the old Reports which we used to get from the Consular officers abroad, those small octavo blue volumes which were sent to a small number of people, and often contained a great deal of information, but were never sent out in such a way as to attract the public generally. After all, the business of a Department of State of this kind is to put its goods in the shop window. A Department of State, when it has information which is of value, ought to display it to the public, and to the people who can make use of it. It is far too frequently hidden. Therefore, I would like to hear from my right hon. Friend, who, I understand, is a business man, interested in large business concerns, whether he is taking any steps to make more accessible to the business community in this country the kind of information which I have suggested. I am no business man, in the sense of being up from day to day against large business propositions, but it did strike me as very curious that on the Voting Paper to-day we shall have hidden away under Civil Service Supplementary Estimates, Class II., Vote 8a, a Vote which I have tried, however imperfectly, to point out is really the birth, or, if not the birth, the christening, of a new Department which is bound to develop to very great things, upon which, I think, criticism from business men in this House is essential. If I have succeeded in drawing the attention of those who are interested in it to the Vote before the Committee, I think that the speech which I have tried to make, however imperfect it may have been, will be of some use.


I had no intention of speaking when I came into the House, because I had no idea, that the mysterious name and letters signified a Vote which carried with it so much of importance to this country, and the Committee ought to be grateful to the hon. Member who has elicited not only this information, but the frank and clear statement of the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to follow him or press him unduly with regard to the rather unhappy family matters into which he entered. He spoke of pre-matrimonial differences. Those sometimes occur, and do not matter very much as long as they lead up to a happy marriage. But I gather that my hon. Friend is not satisfied with the matter, and that something in the nature of a judicial separation is in course of occurring at the present time, and it is not quite certain who has charge of the child. The right hon. Gentleman is in the rather unhappy position of occasionally having to live with one parent and occasionally with the other, in order to try to solve the difficulties and bring them together into amicable relationship. That seems to be a rather curious state of things. At the same time we are glad to know that changes are to be made I, for one, with some little experience of business in other countries, will welcome any change which will make the position of business men, as far as Consular services are concerned, more satisfactory, but there are one or two points on which the hon. Gentleman has a leady touched which many of those who are interested in business would like to have a little more information.

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of these Trade Commissioners, and I would ask him, if possible, to give the names of these gentlemen. The right hon. Gentleman has given the figure of ten appointments, and I am not quite sure that I completely understand the relations which the holders of those appointments will have with regard to the Consular Service and the Commercial Attachés, but they occupy positions of great importance. The right hon. Gentleman has been asked what are to be the qualifications for appointment under this service, and I should like to hear also what salaries are to be paid to these gentlemen. Unfortunately, in the past, if I may say so, it has been too much the practice and habit of Government Departments to think that they can get the very best of commercial intelligence and ability without paying for it. I should like to know what salary is given to attract what would have to be the very best brains, diligence, and knowledge in the commercial world to make these important posts of real advantage. I wish to have further information as to the relation between the Trade Commissioners and the Consular Service and the Commercial Attachés. I wish to know whether the Trade Commissioners themselves will be a new Department over which the right hon. Gentleman has to preside?

With regard to the Consular Service and the Commercial Attachés, I endorse what the hon. Member has said in relation to the Consular Service. I have myself paid visits to various parts of the -world with the object of finding opportunities of increasing business, and I have had introductions to representatives of the Government in various classes of work. Those visits have always been made pleasant and agreeable by the gentlemen concerned. On the social side, I would say that the work has been done admirably and calls for full acknowledgment of the kindness and gracious hospitality they afforded; but in regard to practical information, help and encouragement in respect of the business part of one's visit, the assistance has not been very real. One has felt, and felt only too strongly, in the past, that there has been a divorce between the Consular system and the practical needs of business, the reasons for which I need not discuss. Experience shows that it has been so. If the Commercial Attaché, acting with the Consular Service, is to have information which may help the business man in his relations abroad, I, for one, will welcome that change most cordially. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to tell the Committee how the relationship between the Consular Service and the Commercial Attaches will really stand? The right hon. Gentleman said that they would both come under his new Department. Will it be too much to ask whether questions of policy are to be referred to his own Department, and is that Department to decide questions that may affect such matters as treaties with any other countries? Are those questions to be decided by this new Department or have they, in the end, to go to the Foreign Office for confirmation and sanction? These are practical questions on which the Committee would be glad to have some information. My final point is this: In the past the status of the Commercial Attaché, wherever he has been abroad, has not been on a satisfactory basis. One has found, in some cases, where there is an Embassy, and in others where there is a Consular Service, that the social status of the Commercial Attachéhas been looked upon as something quite different from that of the representatives of the Crown. He has been found in a small room somewhere, not much recognised, not easily found, holding an entirely different position, not only so far as the business world is concerned, but the country in which he is living is concerned—a position, where it concerns business of this country, which he ought not to occupy, but which, especially in view of this great reconstruction, ought to command attention in the interests of the Empire. We should be assured that the status of the Commercial Attaché will be raised to that of other branches of the Consular Service, so that the business of this country will in no way be put at a disadvantage, either socially, politically or commercially.


I listened to the right hon. Baronet with some pleasure and some profit, but I confess if we had known that this subject was to come on we should have been glad of longer time to become more acquainted with the manner in which his Department deals with it. The whole inception of this Department seems to have been carried out under the idea that it was necessary to be somewhat surreptitious, but I suppose that under proper organisation its duty will be to have no favouritism to traders and to deal fairly by all traders The right hon. Gentleman has said himself that he has had to deal with certain difficulties, and that his Department had two parents who had been quarrelling; and when he took over these two Departments he found that each parent had made certain pledges, some of which he had decided would be kept and others that would not be kept. The right hon. Gentleman has stated the circumstances, and I think the Committee will agree that several of those circumstances have been very unsatisfactory in connection with this Department. I have no intention of dealing with the larger questions raised by hon. Members who have preceded me, but I wish to state that last summer, or about August, I, with other Members, approached the Department with a deputation of the Association of Trade Protection Societies. The Department was partly in relation with the Foreign Office and partly in relation with the Board of Trade, and it had made certain arrangements for obtaining information about foreign traders and foreign business, and had also arrangements with private associations, or associations almost of a private nature. At any rate, those associations were all contributing information. It was then that I was asked to take a deputation to the Board of Trade on this matter. I cannot do better than quote from the "Board of Trade Journal," of 3rd May of last year, what took place: In connection with the restrictions imposed on trading with firms in foreign markets by means of the statutory list, the Foreign Trade Department have taken up the question of obtaining from His Majesty's Diplomatic and Consular offices in certain foreign countries fuller and more systematised information than has been available hitherto in regard to possible importers or buyers of British goods. With this object in view, the Foreign Trade Department have issued a circular (known as Form K). Further on it says: A number of replies to the circular have already been received by the Foreign Trade Department, and the information thus collected will shortly be available for distribution to British firms likely to be interested. Then follows this rather more important paragraph: In order to secure an effective method of distribution, the Foreign Trade Department have arranged for the dissemination of the information by the Association of Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom (through its Associate Chambers of Commerce), the London Chamber of Commerce, and the Federation of British Industries. I wish to call your particular attention to this sentence, the last, in the paragraph: When necessary, the information will be also distributed through approved trade associations. There was a statement, made presumably by the Board of Trade in the "Board of Trade Journal," and with the approval of the Foreign Office, that this information is going to be demanded through certain channels. I think they are certain favoured channels. It says: When necessary, the information will be also distributed through approved societies. It was then that the Association of Trade Protection Societies desired to approach the Board of Trade. From the Foreign Office they had got no satisfaction at all. They merely got letters of acknowledgment time after time, till eventually the Foreign Secretary was good enough to say that there was no need for the Association of Trade Protection Societies, because, so far as could be seen, it would only lead to overlapping. Thereupon, as I have stated, a deputation was arranged to go to the Board of Trade on the matter. The deputation consisted of several Members of Parliament and several members of large trading organisations, and we saw the President of the Board of Trade himself and also Sir William Clark, who, I think, is now the permanent official dealing with this matter. After putting our case before the President of the Board of Trade, he entirely accepted our point of view; he said it was reasonable, and I will quote what he said: It seems to me that the two points arise out of what has been suggested here by you this afternoon. The one is. if your association is plated upon the Special Register, would the information that arises out of that act be of value to any considerable section of your members? The other is, can we trust this association with the information that would follow on your being placed on the Special Register? My view is this, that there is section of your members to whom this information would be of value, and certainly as regards the second point, there is no doubt in my mind on that score. Therefore, I am going to ask Sir William Clark to see that your association is placed on the Special Register, and to ask you to be careful, and to use your discretion in giving out the information that will be sent to you from time to time. As regards Form K, that is issued by the Foreign Trade Department, and that is a Department of the Foreign Office. We will ask them to see that Form K is supplied to you, and I think we shall get their consent. We had that statement made by the President of the Board of Trade, and of course we thought our whole object had been attained. We left him with very much warmer thanks than circumstances now seem to justify. A little time afterwards we found that information was being refused to the Secretary of the Association of Trade Protection Societies, and we at once communicated with the right hon. Gentleman now sitting on that bench. He was extremely polite and most charming in his demeanour to us. He at once saw the importance of the deputation, and I am sure the pleasure of seeing him was almost sufficient to counteract the disappointment which we experienced from what he said. It was not sufficient, and we felt extremely aggrieved. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Clark) associated with him in his Department. We had been told that we would get information, and Sir Win. Clark, who was present, was apparently a party to what was going on, when the Minister told us that we would get what we wanted. We left, thinking that we would get it, and it is now refused. The defence of the right hon. Gentleman to our demand is that it is not convenient and that it is not quite the thing to have two or three of these large bodies of traders, because of the possibility of overlapping, and therefore it would appear that the giving of information is confined to three organisations, or practically two organisations, the Association of Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of British Industries. That seems to be an entirely unjust thing to do. It is favouritism to certain organisations. The general taxpayer pays for this information being given, and the general taxpayers are the people who ought to get that information, without being compelled to join any association which they may not wish to join.

The consequence has been that chambers of commerce all over the country have been going round to members of the Association for the Protection of Trade Societies and asking them to join their organisation, because by that means alone can they hope to get this information. That is an impossible situation for a Government Department to have introduced, and we are entitled to have from the hon. Gentleman, I will not say an explanation of what has happened—because that would be of no use at all—but an assurance that he will treat equally all trade associations, and will not put one particular organisation into the position of being able to say, "We are in a favourable position to get information which you cannot have unless you join our organisation." I hope the hon. Gentleman will reconsider this question, and that he will bear in mind that, the President of the Board of Trade having within the last six months made it perfectly plain, after full consideration, that he was prepared to grant the request of this association to be supplied with information, he is not entitled to go away from that promise or to suggest that it was not definitely made, and that therefore he is at liberty to wriggle out of it. Yet that is the impression which has arisen in certain quarters as to the attitude which he may adopt, and I am certain that this Committee will be very glad if he can see his way to entirely repudiate the idea.


The Committee must be struck with the great facility with which this Government wriggles out of any position into which it has tumbled when creating a new Department. I do not in the least be-grudge the appointments which have been made in this case. My hon. Friend is a very able man, and will no doubt do his best. But I do suggest that the creation of this Department is a matter which ought to have come before Parliament before it was finally decided upon, and that a Vote should have been asked for to pay the salaries and other expenses. The Department has been created for the particular purpose of forming a link between the Consulships of the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade Why should the Government not have come frankly to this House and let it know what was going on, and ask for the Vote necessary to establish it? This House should have had the opportunity of laying down the terms. These ten appointment have been made. I feel very strongly upon this subject, because in the investigations of the National Expenditure Committee we have come across most extraordinary things. I am going to ask my hon. Friend to state what are the salaries attached to these posts. I happen to know one of the gentlemen appointed, and all I can is that if he has been appointed for his commercial knowledge, then God help the Department! I want to know who the others are. You cannot get good commercial men to.go abroad to these posts, because they can do better by staying at home. One unfortunate thing about our Consulships has always been that the Consuls appointed do not speak the language of the country to which they are accredited. I do not believe there are two British Consuls in Scandinavia who speak the language of the countries to which they are accredited. All such appointments should be scrapped.

Will the hon. Gentleman give me the names of the ten selected men; will he state the principle on which they were selected; and will be. add the salaries which they are to receive? Were these appointments open to competition or were the posts given to friends? I have seen a good deal during this War of appointments of this nature. Only the other day I remonstrated with one of the, Departments because I found there holding a position a man who was formerly a company promoter, and who years ago was stigmatised in "Truth" as a company promoter of the very worst type. He had been given this appointment, although he knew nothing about the business which he had to undertake. Men holding appointments for which they art: not fit and drawing salaries for work which they do not understand ought not to be in the public service, and I hope my hon. Friend will see that that sort of thing does not go on in connection with this new Department. He has a great chance. He should see that he gets first-class men capable of great developments on the new lines. There is an enormous opportunity here for doing a great deal of good for our manufacturers, and it these men are carefully and judiciously selected I am sure it would be of great advantage to trade, and we shall not get-instances, I hope, in this new Department of men occupying positions who bring discredit, rather than credit, to the country they represent.


I am sorry it was not better known that we were going to have this Debate this afternoon. Thin is a matter which concerns the trade and business of this country in a remarkable degree, and there ought to be a bigger attendance of Members. I should like to suggest that these appointments should not be made permanent, or for a long period of years. At the present time, in consequence of the demand for service in other directions, it is extremely difficult to obtain anybody of ability to conduct operations. Those who are engaged in business must be aware how difficult it is to secure the services of first class men; there are so few men who are free. I do not suggest there has been any secrecy about the establishment of this new Department. It has been felt for a long time that trade interests do not get the attention from the Foreign Office, with its multifarious duties and interests, which it is desirable it should have from a Government Department, and it has been the desire for a long time to secure for Commercial Attaches more influential backing, and to enable them to occupy more important positions. Everybody knows, at any rate in the trading community, that there have been great defects in the appointments made to our Consular Service, the effects of which have been that the business world has not received the attention it desires. It was a matter of general opinion that a new start ought to be made. I thought the House understood, and I am sure the Commercial Committee of this House understood, what was the position. The hon. Gentleman appeared before that; Committee to give an account of his work, and he has also, I understand, seen influential people in the City, including representatives of the London Chamber of Commerce. He made no secret of the fact that he intended to embark upon this policy, and he has been wise enough to ask the advice of anyone who could help him.

I hope he has made a good start. It is an extremely difficult, matter to succeed in, and I trust the House will not expect too striking a measurer of success. But still we may hope to do a good deal better in the future than in the. past. We may not be able to achieve everything we want, but that is a different matter altogether. One of the greatest authorities I know of in these questions has-always insisted on the importance of business firms having departments in any country with which they do business, and being represented there by men who speak the language of that country and who can get to know local conditions. I doubt very much if success in the highest degree is obtainable unless the merchant or manufacturer takes a step of that kind. The hon. Gentleman, with his new Department, will be able, however, to give them a good deal of help. He has already done something. He is enthusiastic, and I am only sorry more hon. Members were not aware that this Debate was coming on. An attack has been made on my hon. Friend on behalf of those who resent that chambers of commerce should be given preferential treatment in this matter. But these chambers have an extremely numerous membership—nearly every business man belongs to one of them—and if the information is given to them I do not think there can be any serious cause for complaint simply because it is not also given to another trading body. If it is given to the chambers of commerce it is easily available to everyone, and, therefore, it seems to me this is rather a matter of sentiment than of real consequence. I am sure the business community will wish the hon. Gentleman every success in his new policy.

5.0 P.M


I think the Committee is greatly indebted to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) for calling attention to this Vote, and I am quite sure that if hon. Members had. known that it was to be taken a great many commercial men in this House would have been here. I am surprised to find that there are not more members of the Commercial Committee, as it is called, present at this Debate on a most important Vote affecting their interests, and I am sorry that it should be so. If the Department of the hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) only removes some of the friction which has existed between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office it will be worth establishing. I remember that years ago when I went into this matter of Consuls and Consular Reports I was sent from one Department to another, and I had great difficulty in knowing where the ultimate responsibility lay. I think it lay with the Foreign Office, but the Foreign Office is extraordinarily jealous of its Department, Before I became a Member of this House I used to read every Consular Report issued. Anybody reading those Reports over must have been impressed by the fact that there were some Consuls who were very competent for their work, who gave exceedingly good information, and who had a very good insight into business; while, on the oilier hand, some of the Reports were written by men who knew very little about business. In travelling abroad I make it a rule to visit these Consuls, and when one found out the grounds on which some of them received their appointments one was not surprised to find that they were people who knew little about business. One of them, I remember I was told, received his appointment because his mother acted as wet nurse to Queen Victoria. That did not seem to be a good qualification for that position, and the man was, indeed, never consulted by the British community that visited there because they were always referred to the Consul of the United States of America. He was a man of great commercial experience, and the British community always used that man in preference to our own Consul.

In giving these posts of Commercial Attachés or Commissioners the great thing is what qualifications the men have for the positions. I am quite sure that after the War is over there will be a great many men who will want to change their mode of life. Some who have been in banks will want to go abroad, and a great many will be trying to get a post such as this. I. trust the hon. Gentleman will be in no sense led to give posts to these men be cause at this particular moment they have rendered military service. You want to find out what qualifications they have, if they know the trade, while it is essential that they should know the language of the country in which they are living. Very few of our men in those positions do know the language of the country in which they are living. There is a body of men from which the right hon. Gentleman would do well to get a great many men who have had commercial experience in. this country. There are a great many of these men of extraordinary ability, many who have risen in life, and some of whom today travel abroad. If the hon. Gentleman were to search out some of those men they would be an enormous advantage to the Department. They have been trained from the lowest grade in the business, they have shown ability, learnt languages, have travelled abroad, and if the hon. Gentleman would make appointments from that class he would get first-rate business men. It is a sad tiling that many of our representatives abroad do not know the language of the country. I remember meeting in Germany a man who was the son of a very large manufacturer in Glasgow. He did not know German. I asked him how he got on, and he said there was always someone there who spoke English. I think it is disgraceful that a man like that, the son of a big manufacturer in Glasgow, should have to confess that he had to rely on someone speaking English to enable him to sell his own goods. I told him that I thought it necessary to learn some German in order to be able to speak to the people with whom I was dealing each day. If more of our people would abandon that insular pride in the English language and would try to learn other languages it would be a great benefit to the commerce of the country. I am sure the hon. Gentleman should try to appoint as Attachés different men who at present represent firms abroad and who know the language of the country.


I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) one question on a point with which he did not deal in his speech. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) referred to the old series of Consular Reports, and said, I think, that they gave commercial information in a rather inaccessible form. Apparently he has not had his attention directed to the "Board of Trade Journal," and one question I want to put to the hon. Gentleman is whether his Department is going to take over the "Board of Trade Journal"? The questions that were put as to favouritism in the distribution of information really turn on difficulties arising during the War. It is very obvious that the Department over which the hon. Gentleman presides will be expected in peace-time to give this information in the widest possible way, and the "Board of Trade Journal," or something of the kind, is obviously one of the best ways to give such information. Before the War that journal had a considerable number of subscribers, and the number, I think, was increasing. It always struck me, however, that not only did not a great many business men take the trouble that the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Price) took in reading the Consular Reports, but that they did not read the "Board of Trade Journal." They used to complain that they did not receive information which was really accessible to them there, and which was very useful to those who made use of the "Journal." I think the hon. Gentleman will admit that that journal, or something of the kind, should come under the control of his Department, and that its development would be a matter of great importance.

I would like to add one or two remarks in deprecation of some of the appeals that have been made by hon. Members with regard to the future administration of the Consular Service. For instance, an appeal has been made, which on the face of it is very plausible, that our Consuls should always, on the one hand, be of British nationality, and that they should, on the other hand, always speak the language of the country they are in. The latter appeal is obviously a very strong one, but I hope hon. Members will realise that if we are to have a Consular Service in which we are represented at practically every port in the world by a Consul who is to be both a competent Britisher who speaks the language of the country ho is in and who is at the same time a man capable of furnishing a report of the trade of the place and of following the business there, we shall have a very costly Consular Service indeed. The Consular Service in the past has been conducted on a principle that has been thought by some to be too economical, and perhaps in some, cases it was too economical. At the same time, I doubt whether we should contemplate the establishment of a system winch would provide in every little port, however little the work to be done, a Consul who is to be a competent man of business and also a man knowing the language of the neighbourhood. In many of these ports the Consular duties are very light, and that is why they are so often discharged — and often very faithfully and helpfully discharged—by natives of the country. If you want a paid full-time man who will not have anything like full-time work to do, on the principle that you should always be represented by a Britisher and a man who knows the language, you will be compiling a very large bill of costs. There is another fact which I assume the hon. Gentleman has had in view all along. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh told us of a tour he made in North-West Europe, in which he was seeking for information that could be translated into money, and that he was disappointed with the lack of assistance he received from the Consuls. It is not very clear what my hon. Friend meant by information that could be translated into money.


I will toll my right hon. Friend. Obviously, the commercial man goes to a country in order to see how he can use his capital. He asks the Consuls for certain information with regard to the trade of the country, and as to how capital can be best employed there. Those people ought to be able to tell Britishers how that can be done, and the best way to do it, when they have the facilities in their hands. My point is that if they cannot do it, you cannot employ money to the best advantage.


My hon. Friend's phrase seems to be less formidable than it appeared to be. I agree that it is useful that the Consul or Commercial Attaché should always be able to give information, though as regards the investment of capital in a place—which seems to be my hon. Friend's point—that is rather another matter from what other hon. Members were thinking of when they said that the Consuls should give some such information as would enable British traders to dispose of their goods. The point I wish to put is that there is obviously a limit to the kind of assistance that a Consul or Commercial Attachécan properly give to British traders seeking for information that can be translated into money, because he has to consider the whole of the British traders. His information must be given with impartiality. He must not give an introduction to one trader and not to another. He might get into an awkward position by giving an introduction to a British trader to certain firms, which introduction would be resented by another British trader coming on the heels of the first. The Consul must be impartial. He must have a body of information at his command which will be accessible to all traders, and that is why I should like to lay more stress on the published information given in the "Board of Trade Journal "rather than on the kind of direct service that a Consul should be expected to give to travelling traders. He must not seem to benefit one trader over another, and it will be very difficult for the Consul to seek to help British travellers visiting his port without at some time seeming to give an advantage to one trader over his competitor.

I was reading only the other day a trade magazine in which in one paragraph attention was called to the need for this kind of commercial information that we have been discussing this afternoon, and I think complaint was made that the British trader did not get the amount of help for which he was entitled to look—I fancy that those who made that complaint had not always availed themselves of the information accessible—but in the next paragraph was told a story of a British trader who went to a certain foreign town and there made the acquaintance of a German traveller. The German traveller, who wanted to sell similar goods, had actually to get his goods from the British trader. The British trader could not speak the language, and had no help except what he could get from a porter whom he obtained as an interpreter. The result was that the German had the advantage over him at every point. It is impossible to look to the Consul or Commercial Attaché to make up such deficiencies as those. The German trader helps himself in these matters, and the British trader should also help himself. I do not know whether it would be in the province of the new Ministry to call the attention of British traders to the necessity of paying attention to matters of that kind, but if the hon. Gentleman could use his influence in that way he would be doing as much to promote the interests of British trade as by the diffusion of information.


With regard to what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Robertson) as to men speaking the language of the country in which they are staying, may I explain what has been done by the town of Stettin, in Germany? In the town of Stettin, apart from the curriculum of schools, they decided to form another school giving entirely commercial information, and they granted a certificate to all those who passed through this school. They offered a reward to every boy who went abroad of £70. He was under no obligation to bring it back again, but if he got into a position to enable him to do it they said that they would receive the money. The condition on which the £70 was given, and on which the lad accepted it, was that whatever port of the world he went to live in he should report to the committee of this school or college the trade which Stettin could do in the district in which he was living. In no single instance, covering many years, was there a case of any lad who received the £70 who did not return the money, except in the event of death. All over the world these boys from Stettin were constantly reporting to that district as to the trade suitable for Stettin. If my right hon. Friend could adopt a suggestion of that kind and ask British residents in any part of the world to report as to the trade done in the particular district in which they lived, and then publish it in the local journals—and that is a very important matter—it would add very greatly to the usefulness of the service.


I am rather sorry that it was not more widely known that this Debate was coming on, and I cannot help thinking that if it had been that a great many people who have been talking a good deal about this subject would have come here—some, I dare say, to criticise, but, I am quite sure, a good many to express appreciation of that which has been done so far by the Under-Secretary. It appears to me that this Overseas Department is about the most valuable piece of reconstruction that has yet been attempted. A great many people have complained about the Consular Service of the Board of Trade not assisting trade as much as it might do, but I think there are other aspects to that question. There is the question, for instance, as to whether there are bodies which are sufficiently capable and well officered to offer that assistance to the Board of Trade which would indicate to them the lines on which they might proceed, progress, and develop. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome from chambers of commerce and kindred organisations indications as to the way in which he should proceed. The information which is now being transmitted to the chambers of commerce is gradually percolating and being distributed to new chambers and new departments of those chambers, but I doubt whether it will be properly appreciated until there is some improvement in the method of distributing it. One meets very few people who take the "Journal" of the Board of Trade, to which reference has been made. I feel quite sure that-more use might be made of that "Journal" in distributing it and by indicating there where the fuller information could be obtained in addition to that which is now being distributed. With regard to the question of having persons of British birth and able to speak the language of the particular country in everyplace where there is a British Consul, I think one has to look very carefully at a proposition of that kind. I rather agree with what the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said on this subject. What we ought to secure is the appointment of a very capable man in charge of each district of a country, and that that man should have under him men conversant with the local details and idiosyncrasies, and, of course, able to speak the language and at the same time having a knowledge of home conditions as well as of the conditions of the country in which he was placed.

I cannot help thinking also that it would be necessary, and very desirable, in the developments which the hon. Gentleman may be able to secure, that these men who are Consuls abroad should eventually come home, so that we could have in his Department here the knowledge that they had acquired of the conditions of the various foreign countries from which they came, and that there should be a circulation of such men. When I use the word "circulation" I do not mean such a circulation as I heard of in which a man who had acquired a full knowledge of the facts with regard to East Africa was then sent to the western shores of South America. I mean rather that a man who has got to know all the details of, say, South America, should come home and be a reservoir of information here, and that men here should be sent out to South America and other places to learn the conditions there, while at the same time they had knowledge of the trade which we desire to push in the countries to which they went. Some criticism has been offered as to the manner in which the information is distributed. I think the chamber of commerce is the proper line, but that at the same time the right hon. Gentleman should try and secure that no monopoly is established. Anyone can become a member of a chamber of commerce, and subscriptions are extremely small. I cannot see, personally, any difficulty in anybody who wants information from the Board of Trade obtaining it at a most trivial cost. I am not, indeed, quite sure that there is a very great deal in this respect in the criticism which has been passed. I shall be glad to hear any further explanation which the right hon. Gentleman may be in a position to give as to any developments which he has in immediate contemplation.

Colonel YATE

I think we all welcome most cordially the reconstruction of our Overseas Commercial Department, and that we look forward to great developments in this direction. I hope the time has come when we shall see all our Consuls fully-paid Consuls of British birth and not men of foreign birth trading on their own account. I know it would cost a great deal more money, but on that aspect of the question I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in the reconstitution of our Consular Overseas Service he proposes to institute a system of the levying of Consular fees abroad similar to the system which is adopted by foreign countries. The amount of money collected in that way would go a long way towards meeting the expense of fully-paid Consuls.


I am sorry that any hon. Member should have thought that there was any wish to hide the activities of this Department, and I can assure hon. Members that there is no such desire. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) in his interesting remarks at the beginning, which really gave an opportunity for this Debate, gave, I am afraid, what is possibly the only instance in which he has failed in his Parliamentary duties, and that is in not having read the White Paper which was issued at the beginning and in which the whole facts are set forth.


I knew all about it.


I can only say for myself that there has not been the very least intention of burking any discussion of any sort or kind. When the Estimates for next year come on, I hope that there will be shown on those Estimates the whole table of the Commercial Attachés for each place and the Trade Commissioners also, so that the Committee may have before it a conspectus of the whole of the work so far as it can be put down in black and white on paper..I myself would also welcome it, because one of the difficulties with regard to the work at present is the fact that amidst all the preoccupations of the War it is not always easy to get enough attention paid to some of the necessary problems with which we are going to be faced at the end of the War. Therefore, from my own personal point of view, the more attention that is called to this question, the more I am glad, because it means that to that extent the problem is analysed and more steam is put behind the work. For that reason I also have been doing my best, as many Members of the House know, to invite criticism and opinions from many Members of the House and from as many people in commerce and business outside as possible. I refer not only to members of the Commercial Committee of the House, but also individual members both of London and the provinces, and I have taken opportunities to ask them to come and talk over the problems so as to try and arrive at solutions of some of the questions which, in this connection, have never been fully analysed in this country before.

During this Debate a question has been put whether this new experiment of administration, because it is quite a new experiment, is really justified. I think if hon. Members will go into all the details of the question they, and I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Robertson) also, with his experience, will probably agree that this Department is really a very justifiable experiment in administration. It has, of course, got its drawbacks. It may be said that no man can serve two masters, and that consequently it is not easy to serve the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the President of the Board of Trade. But all those are verbal criticisms which have to give way to the logic of facts, and getting to the logic of facts, if a Department of this kind is worked with good will and understanding on both sides, my feeling is that it is the best way to meet a very difficult situation. The right hon. Gentleman knows, with his experience, that it has always been a real matter of difficulty as to who ought to look after the Commercial Services abroad. Of course, in so far as they have a commercial aspect, it is naturally the Board of Trade which is interested in them, but at the same time there is hardly a single commercial question of any great importance in foreign countries which may not at any moment take on a political value, and, quite rightly from that point of view, the Foreign Office feel that they ought to have a say and knowledge of a matter which might be the genesis of some international question, and that they are the only authority which can properly deal with political questions abroad of that kind. That is one of the considerations which has dictated the present state of affairs with regard to Consuls. I think the primary duty of the Consuls ought to be to sub serve the commercial interests of the community at home, but you cannot dissociate Consuls from political questions and political work as well, and it is for that reason that it is impossible at any time to sever their connection with the Foreign Office. When my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) suggested that they would be transferred from the Foreign Office to the new Department, I think he indicated that he had not got a full idea of what the new Department is intended to be. It is a joint department of the Foreign Office as well as of the Board of Trade, and it is really a transference from one part of the Foreign Office to another, because the new Department is Foreign Office also. The recom- mendations which I may make with regard to appointments or transfers will always be recommendations to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to give his final sanction. So that it does not cease to be the Foreign Office; it is essentially joined to the two.

An hon. Member asked for certain information as to the way in which we have proceeded with regard to Trade Commissioners and their knowledge of languages, and perhaps it was my fault at the outset that I did not make the situation quite clear, because the hon. Member for Edinburgh clearly did not quite understand it also. There are two halves to our services abroad. The half which is represented by the Trade Commissioners has nothing to do with foreign countries. The Trade Commissioners are of service to the British Empire only, and consequently, with the exception, conceivably, of French Canada, and perhaps part of South Africa, the question of foreign languages does not arise in their case. The British Empire is served by Trade Commissioners; foreign countries are served by Commercial Attachés and Consuls. I hope I have made that quite clear. As regards Commercial Attachés and Consuls, the possession of a knowledge of the language of the place where they are serving, I was going to say, is absolutely requisite, but if ever there were an exception, at any rate, it would be a rare exception—but otherwise a knowledge of the language of the country in which they are serving is an absolute requisite. I can only speak of one meeting of the Selection Committee for Commercial Attachés. One appointment was made. The appointment has not yet been passed by the Secretary of State, but perhaps I may anticipate it by saying that in such case he was not only bi-lingual with regard to English and the language of the country in which he proposed to serve, hut that he had taken a degree of engineering in the country in which it was proposed he should serve as well as in this country, so that in that case, at any rate, the requirement would be satisfied.

With regard to; the Trade Commissioners, about which a question was raised, I have a, note hereof those who have been already appointed, and I am only too glad to tell the Committee the method of their appointment. I had certain applications made to me personally, and I passed on all the applications to a Selection Committee which was set. up to deal with them. The Selection Committee included three men of business, as well as some officials representing the Board of Trade and other Government Departments. This refers to the Trade Commissioners for the British Empire. The Selection Committee, which was quite a small Committee, included three outsiders in the shape of three men of business—Sir Algernon Firth Sir Henry Birchenough, and Mr. Stanley Machin. of the London Chamber of Commerce—and the whole of the appointments were filled by a Selection Committee composed partly of members of the Departments and a large proportion of outside business men. The result was that ten posts have been filled or recommended as Trade Commissioners of the British Empire—not Commercial Attachés. I took a note of what their qualifications- were. For Canada, Mr. Field, of Toronto, who was previously the trade correspondent there, and editor of the "Monetary Times" of Toronto; for Australia, Mr. McGregor, who was a commercial engineeer, and also was in business in the metal trade; for New Zealand, Mr. Dalton, who was previously a member of the department which carried out special inquiries at the beginning of the War in his particular trade; in South Africa, Mr. Wickham, who has been in a firm in Calcutta. And so right through the whole record. I am sure the Committee will not wish me to give all the names, but I shall be only too glad to hand the record to anyone.


Can you give us the ten names?


They are: Canada, Mr. G. T. Milne and Mr. F. W. Field (Toronto); Australia, Mr. McGregor; New Zealand, Mr: Dalton; South Africa, Mr. Wickham and Mr. Wilson Goode; India, Mr. Ainscough: Straits Settlements, Mr. McKellen (Fine Cotton Spinners); and attached at present to headquarters, Mr. Hamilton Wickes. Another has just been recommended for the West Indies, Mr. Pavitt, who is a chartered accountant. Those are the ten who have already been either appointed or recommended, and the salary is, for the first grade, rising from £ 1,000 to £1,200 a year; for the second grade, £700 to £900; and for the third grade, from £500 to £700.


Are those all first grades?


No; one first grade in Canada, one first grade in Australia—five altogether of the first grade, and, I think, five of the second, and six of the third— that is the whole sixteen.


Do I understand the representative appointed for South Africa was in India?


He had been in a firm in India for a portion of his time.


Had he any South African experience before?


I do not think he had. It is impossible, if I may say so, to get quite the ideal with regard to every particular person. No doubt it would be quite ideal if you could get a person who has got experience of South Africa, but if you get a person of real good experience, who has done administrative work, any person with brains will accommodate himself to the conditions in South Africa. With regard to the Commercial Attaches and Consuls, a question has been asked me which is of interest. I entirely agree with what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyneside. I think myself the duties which the Consul can perform for the commercial community are sometimes over-estimated, and in this country, I know, many people are accustomed to say that British Consuls have been no help with regard to business, and that we ought to look to German and American Consuls as models. I have extracts from the German papers in which they say they ought to look to the British and American Consuls as models, and I have now an authoritative opinion from America saying they ought to look to the British and German Consuls as models.

I think there is a perfectly natural misconception by which the commercial community in nearly every country is inclined to expect from its Consuls more than the most ideal Consul could really give. I think we have got in mind ideas with regard to the recruitment of Consuls for the future, and as to how they should be trained to be of the best possible use. The sort of idea floating in my mind was to see if they could not be given a year of a definite commercial education in some of the modern universities—take Leeds, for example—where they might not only be trained from the point of view of lectures, but also get practical experience in some of the factories near by at the same time, and that after that they should go through a definite course, which would be equally necessary, of banking, currency, finance and transport. Then, I think, perhaps, one would get a person of the type who could be of most use, but if anyone expects they could go to a place and at once ask the Consul to turn their efforts into money direct—I am not wishing to be responsible for what the hon. Member has said at all —I think that involves a misconception of what a Consul can do. I do not think a Consul ever can, under the best conditions, definitely tell a person exactly what is the status of the different people with whom he can trade. What I think a Consul ought to have is a really working knowledge of what the trade of the place is, of the principal traders in the place, and the principal financial and banking institutions, so that a person who goes there, ignorant, shall we say? of the town and district, can be given a general idea of the commercial life there, and can be told of the people to whom he can go in order to get really reliable knowledge. That is, I think, the proper function of the Consul, put in very general language, but which, if carried out adequately and with zeal, really would make him a very great help to the person who came there.

The proposed relation of Consuls and Commercial Attachés is this: In the scheme the Commercial Attaché Service to a large extent has now been under consideration and has been settled. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Pennefather) has helped enormously. He has been one of those who first helped us in really remodelling and revising, but with his help, and other help when given, it is proposed that there should be this service of Commercial Attaches throughout foreign countries, in four grades. The salaries are to be—first grade, maximum £l,500 a year; second grade, £1,100; third grade, £800; and fourth grade, £600. Of course those are supplemented by local allowances to cover extra expenses in very expensive places, and also office allowance to cover the expenses of the office. As between Consuls and Commercial Attachés, the proposed position is this—of course, one has to conceive both of transitory and normal periods: In the normal period, when the whole system is in working, the Consuls will be recruited in the way I have suggested, and the most promising of them will be eligible for Commercial Attachés. After going through the fourth and third grades, if still showing the same promise and performance, they would go on to the second grade and the first grade Commercial Attachés; otherwise they would pass back into the Consular Service. Thus both Services would be really one recruited in the same way, but the Commercial Attaches of the future would be picked from the Consular Service. They would be at the centre of authority very largely. The principal Commercial Attachéin a country would have to collect all the information, and I sincerely trust it may be possible to get Consular fees, which would help to pay for that. He would have to collect all the information from the different Consular districts, and would have to be able to give a really good economic survey of the country as a whole and the knowledge of it to traders He would, in turn, have to be able to inspect the Consuls, and see that they were doing their duty. That, of course, applies purely to the normal period.

We have to fill up the new posts before any organisation like that can be got into working order. For the purpose of filling the new posts I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no chance of any favouritism at all. Again, a Select Committee has been set up, partly representative of the Departments, partly from the Civil Service Commissioners, and partly composed of business men. Every single candidate for appointment goes before them before he can be recommended to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs for selection. I trust I have given the Committee such satisfaction on that point as they might wish. I can only say, as regards the publication of information, that, of course, the "Board of Trade Journal" is quite the best place for all information which shall be published to the world at large. It has lately been remodelled and brought out in what, is hoped, is a more attractive form; the contents have been remodelled as well. All that information will be given as widely as possible. It is hoped, in addition, to be able to give special Reports, some of which are needed immediately, and apart from the Report on the whole country for the year, which is not meant to give immediate information. In many cases the man of business will want immediate information, and that is to be dealt with quickly, either by letter or telegram sent out to the people on the special register which is kept for the purpose; thus we shall arrive at the matter by much quicker methods than either the Annual Report or publication in the "Board of Trade Journal."

The question of language is, I can assure my hon. Friend, a matter of very great difficulty. At the same time, I hope before long to see what can be done by negotiation with representatives of groups in business and with the universities throughout the country, so to see whether we cannot get, instead of simply here a chair of Russian and there a chair of Spanish, to, at any rate, get the country adequately dealt with from the point of view of a proper education in modern languages. It is perfectly true that the knowledge of modern languages is hopelessly deficient in this country. One of the things most urgently needed is a knowledge, not only of French and German—which were mostly thought sufficient before the War—but of such languages as Spanish and Portuguese, in view of the great development of places like South America. It is not possible to set everything on foot at once, but I have already had informal conversations with the Minister of Education on the subject, and this is one of the matters which we want to pursue.

There is only one other item with which I ought to deal, I think, and that is the particular question brought up by the hon. Member sitting just below the Gangway (Mr. Rendall). I am sorry that he and I quite definitely do not agree. The hon. Gentleman has made one or two statements. I put his words down. He referred to a pledge which had not been kept. I really definitely say that there is no foundation for that. There is no pledge which was not kept-absolutely none! What occurred was this: there is an item of information under Form K, which was started in the Foreign Trade Department, and is now being transferred from the Foreign Office to the Department of Overseas Trade. In the interview with the President of the Board of Trade I gather that my hon. Friend and some others pressed for the giving of certain information which the Board of Trade had to give to the Association of Trade Protection Societies. The President of the Board of Trade consented to it—my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—then he was asked whether he would also supply them with information under what is called Form K. The reply of the President was that the matter was one for the Foreign Office, but he would ask them and hoped to obtain their consent. There were special difficulties and special reasons— which I really do not care to go into in detail, but which made it really difficult— and I do not think necessary—


Were they made by the Foreign Office?


The Foreign Office were responsible for this information under Form K. The difficulties I do not think were known by the President of the Board of Trade at the time, and he made no specific pledge to give information which was really then in connection with a matter under the Foreign Office. My hon. Friend says that the result has been that the Chambers of Commerce have been detaching members from the trade protection societies on the ground that they alone can supply this information and the trade protection societies cannot. That is a serious charge, and I shall be glad if I can give my hon. Friend a specific answer to it. If he is satisfied, I shall be very pleased. It is also a serious charge to make against the Chambers of Commerce. The whole question—it is just as well to be perfectly definite and perfectly explicit—is that this information was distributed, it was said, to many associations of an entirely private nature. I do not think that Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of British Industries can really be described as associations of an entirely private nature. The information was distributed to them—for what reason? Because it was required to do two things. This was before I had anything to do with the Department: at the same time I fully concur in what was done before I had charge. It was desired to see that this information should be distributed as widely as possible, and that it should be given to those people whose principal object was pushing foreign trade I think anyone who is really acquainted with the commercial world would say that these two objects were the two most representative bodies. There was no favouritism.


Is not the Federation of British Industries a new organisation?


It is quite a new organisation, and very representative. They have as one of their principle objects the pushing of foreign trade. It would be very much simpler and very much easier to publish all this information straight off; but you have to draw the line somewhere. On the question of trade protection societies as compared with the Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of British Industries, one of the essential features of a trade protection society, as differentiated from a Chamber of Commerce or from the Federation of British Industries—I do not wish to derogate for a moment from the character of the first—is that it is largely engaged in status inquiries in connection with accounts. If a line was to be drawn at all it was surely to be drawn between people whose object is the general promotion of commerce and a body which acts for people for whom status inquiry is a matter of business guidance. I think, therefore, the principle is quite clear, and I see no reason whatsoever of any kind—


The right hon. Gentleman says it is not a pledge, but the words I quoted from the President showed that he said Form K was issued by the Foreign Office. He was asked to see that Form K was supplied to a certain body, and the reply was that he would ask that Form K should be so supplied, and he added that he hoped to get the consent of the Foreign Office. When a Cabinet Minister, who is practically in control of the matter, and when, subsequently, the working of the Department is put under his control, says that, and later does not give Form K, it is surely as good as an undertaking or a pledge?


But the matter was under the control of the Foreign Office.


It is under their control now, apparently !


The responsibility for Form K rests with the Foreign Office, and there the matter rests. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not quite satisfied with the explanation concerning one who was brought into the matter in the way the President of the Board of Trade was. Still, if there are amongst the members of the Trade Protection Societies—the bulk of whom, I think I may say so rightly, are retailers —a comparatively small proportion to whom this information would be of any use, we shall be quite glad to make arrangements to see that they get the information. That I shall be ready to try to do, but to press the matter as one of amour propre on behalf of the Trade Protection Societies seems a mistake, I am exceedingly sorry that the line has had to be drawn somewhere. In principle, I think, the line should be drawn where it is drawn. For my own part, I cannot see my way to depart from that position.


The interesting speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman is one that ought to encourage the Committee to take the estimate of the new Department into consideration from the standpoint, at any rate, of economy. The estimate is not one calculated to ease the suspicion of those who may be afraid of some extravagance. We always hear my right hon. Friend who has just sat down with great delight, and I do not want to say anything which may appear to be unfair or hard criticism about him on his almost first appearance in this new Department, for, as I understand, he is Parliamentary Secretary to this extraordinary Department, which appears to be existing between two great Departments of the State—the Board of Trade on the one hand, and the Foreign Office on the other. The Estimates on the Paper before me show: Parliamentary Secretary (£2,000 per annum), proportion, £835; with a proportion of £500 (out of £1,200) for an officer termed a Comptroller-General. Subordinate clerical staff, messenger, charwoman, account for £350. As it appears to me, you have here an expenditure of £l,300, or thereabouts, to supervise £350. That is what I may call a good start.


Perhaps my right hon. Friend was not here when, at the beginning, I said that the office, in respect of which these estimates are submitted, would supervise the whole of the Commercial Attachéand Trade Commissioners' Services. Next year I hope it may be possible to set out the whole Service in detail, with the amounts for each individual officer. Subsequently, the whole would be set out so that they could come at one under review. I said that this deficient Supplementary Estimate would be open to criticism.


I do not think the Supplementary Estimate is deficient. I think it is too extravagant. My hon. Friend does not reassure me by saying that next year we shall have an Estimate of all the salaries set out with the extent of the expenditure. I want to restrict the salaries and the expenditure to the narrowest limits consistent with efficiency instead of watching with any pleasure the growth of this extraordinary Department. I regret that I did not hear the beginning of this Debate, but I wish to express a doubt which exists in my mind. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) appears to have made particular inquiries about the status of the individuals appointed, and he has asked whether they were good and efficient men, and the answer which the hon. Gentleman has given appears quite satisfactory.



6.0 P.M


I am only stating my own view. The doubt in my mind is as to what we want them to do. This matter is very vague, and it. may lead to a gigantic expenditure. Already we have heard of thirteen appointments. First we get a Parliamentary Secretary with £2,000 a year, then a Controller at £1,200 a year, who controls nothing but an extremely small staff. We have also heard of thirteen appointments, some at £1,500, others at £1,100, £900, and £700 a year, and that is only a beginning. I want to know what is being done in foreign countries, such as South America and other places? This is really the the creation of a new Foreign Service altogether, and the duties have been left extremely vague. Take the question of foreign languages. If the merchants in this country want their staffs to be acquainted with a foreign language they must give that instruction here, and they must get their staffs educated in this country.

Before this Department develops any further I think all this expenditure ought to be more carefully looked into. I could not quite make out whether the Commercial Attaché is going to be the superior of the Consul or merely an assists ant. Unless there are definite duties laid down I do not think there ought to be any more appointments. For instance, I would like to know if any new work has been developed in New Zealand, South Africa, and the Straits Settlements? I believe that all these appointments have been made in response to a well-intended clamour about the creation of a new Department, and now that it has been created with all these salaries, perhaps we may have an Estimate of £100 in connection with this matter.

If these appointments are to go on over the whole world, when the expenditure of this country is on such a gigantic scale, we ought not to have such appointments made unless there is a definite necessity for it, and unless they are going to discharge some duties that will repay the large expenditure incurred. I do not wish to find fault with what has been suggested by my hon. Friend, but I hope he will not be hustled into making more appointments of this kind.


I would like to have a little more information about the Trade Commissioners. We have been told that sixteen of these appointments have been made, and that they are gentlemen who have had some commercial experience. T know one Commissioner who has had no business experience, and I know that he has sent back one or two admirable reports, as well written as any reports that could be obtained; but that is not what the Department has been set up for, or what the commercial community require, and I would like to have some assurance that in regard to future appointments they will be given to men who have had business experience and knowledge.


I must say that I am rather disappointed with the appointments which have been made. I have myself been round the world seven or eight times, and with my experience, and after all the talk we have had about this new Department, I am sorry to see that you have gone back to the bad old system of getting men for these positions who are not the best we can get for those duties. I think the salaries are absurd, and the men obtained are not the type that are going to help us abroad. I know something about the countries where these men have been appointed, and I know many men there who have knowledge of the ins and outs of business, and who could supply us exactly with what we require. I am extremely sorry that it has been thought necessary to engage a type of men which is the wrong type. One of the gentlemen appointed is a chartered accountant. I have nothing to say against a chartered accountant, but when you send him abroad to take charge of our Consular service you will never get from him more than a superficial knowledge of commerce in that country.

The men you employ ought to thoroughly understand all the various ins and outs of commerce in the country itself, and I do not think you are going to succeed in this business if you are going to appoint professional men from this country. It seems to me that commercial men should not rely too much on the Consular Service. Successful business can never be done unless Englishmen go out themselves and learn the conditions of the country. They may get a little useful help from the Consuls, but that will never take the place of personal work and investigation. We have heard a great deal about the marvellous commercial men sent out by Germany. I have met a great many of them abroad, but I have never met one whom I would like to employ. They generally speak four or five tongues, all of them extremely badly, but they do not do their business because they speak those tongues; they do business by means that most British firms would not employ. I thought this Department was going to be something new under my hon. Friend—that it was going to be a new conception; but I am profoundly disappointed that it appears to have gone upon the old lines of employing a man without any special qualifications for the work he has to do.


Can the man who has been appointed for South Africa speak Dutch?


No, he cannot speak Dutch


I was very pleased to hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Vote, and particularly his views about trade protection societies, and I was very sympathetic with the opinions which he put before the Committee on that subject. I understand from the hon. Gentleman's opening observations, in reply to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge),that a Foreign Intelligence Department is going to be set up, and that inquiries as to commercial status are going to be made throughout the world. I understand that, following upon the receipt of all that information, it is going to be handed over to the chambers of commerce, and to another institution called the Federation of Traders. I do not think the hon. Gentleman ought to have taken up that line, and he ought to have utilised the existing trade protection societies by giving them the information which he proposes to give to the chambers of commerce, for I believe they would have utilised that information in a much more thorough and businesslike fashion than the chambers of commerce.

They are not the people who represent the entire commerce of the country, and they only represent a section of our traders, and generally the most aristocratic section. Why the hon. Member should have chosen those bodies to carry out those duties I cannot understand. I hope the hon. Member will reconsider his decision. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has made a definite promise to reconsider his decision in regard to trade protection societies in order to see if he can utilise their services. I hope the information which he is going to give to the chambers of commerce will be given to the trade societies, because I feel sure that that would be for the benefit of the trade of the country.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow;

Committee to sit again To-morrow.