HC Deb 25 February 1919 vol 112 cc1553-4

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make it an inflexible rule that British Consuls abroad, whether paid or not, shall be British subjects, and shall possess a knowledge not only of the English language but also of that of the country to which they are accredited?

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

A clear distinction ought to be drawn between the salaried and unsalaried services. Officers in the paid Consular Service are British-born subjects, and this rule will of course be maintained. British-born subjects are also invariably appointed to unpaid posts in cases where they are the most suitable candidate available. In the past, Consular officers of alien nationality have only been appointed to posts where no suitable British subject was available and where the British interests involved would not have justified the appointment of a salaried officer, entailing a charge upon public funds for which no sufficient return could be expected. Such cases must arise in the future, but the selection of unpaid officers is safeguarded by Lord Robert Cecil's pledge of 22nd August, 1916.

A high standard of at least two foreign languages was required of candidates for the paid Consular Service under the old examination, which was suspended on the outbreak of War. As soon as the examination is re-established the same proficiency will be demanded, and special facilities are devised to meet the case of Russia, the Near East and China and Japan, where the language question presents exceptional difficulty. A sound knowledge of one or more foreign language is now required by the Selection Committee of candidates for the salaried service, but it is not possible in present circumstances to expect candidates to bein a position to pass a formal examination. Promotions and transfers within the service have been and are influenced to a great extent by the language qualifications of the officers concerned.


May I ask my hon. Friend whether, in caseswhere he finds it necessary to appoint to Vice-Consular posts men who are hot British subjects, and who are running ship chandlers' stores or businesses of that sort, he will take steps to prevent their hoisting the British flag over their stores and thus attracting British ship captains?


I will do all in my power to prevent abuses of that kind.