HC Deb 27 February 1919 vol 112 cc2005-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £19,770, 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, 1919, for Expenditure in respect of Diplomatic and Consular Buildings, and for the maintenance of certain Cemeteries Abroad.


I hope my right hon. Friend when we come to each of these questions will do as he has done in previous years and avoid a certain amount of criticism by saying something in regard to each Estimate. If we take the one with which we are now dealing, Diplomatic and Consular buildings, hon. Members will see that there are several unexplained items involving a considerable outlay of money in addition to what was originally estimated. The first thing is the provision of new bathrooms, etc., at Lourenço Marques, for which the original estimate was only £150. The revised estimate is now £370. That is a small item, and my right hon. Friend will perhaps avoid a considerable amount of criticism if he explains matters like that. I notice that at Berne there is a sum of £3,400 to be expended for the purchase and adaptation of a new Legation. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell us what has come over the old Legation house that was there before. What has been done with it and what is the necessity for this new expenditure? The same with regard to £6,900 at Elizabethville. There there is a proposed increased expenditure of £900, but no information is given as to the old Vice-Consulate at that port. If he can answer these questions, so far as I am concerned he can have the Vote.


In connection with these Consular buildings at Elizabethville and LourençoMarques, I should like the Government to take into consideration the fact that it has a very considerable effect upon the prestige even of a great country like this if its Consular representatives are not properly housed. In the past when new Consular buildings have been erected they have only too often been on a much smaller scale and much less imposing than the Consulates of other Powers, notably of the United States of America. As two of the items in these Estimates appear to be for new buildings will the right hon. Gentleman give the Committee an undertaking that the buildings are of a style and dignity fitting to house His Majesty's representatives?


I am very glad to receive the support of the Noble Earl in this matter. I quite agree that it is important that our Consular Service should be very well housed. In regard to the questions put by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), the item with respect to the Consulate at Lourenço Marques refers to an estimate made a good many years ago. The price of labour and materials has increased very much since then, and more work has been found necessary than was thought to be necessary when the estimate was first made. That explains the increase. In regard to the Consulate at Berne, owing to the great pressure of work we have had to acquire additional premises which are to be used as an extension of the Legation house. This was the most economical way of doing it. We either had to construct a permanent addition to the existing premises or to hire additional premises outside the Legation grounds. In regard to Elizabethville, the present Consulate has been severely attacked by the white ant. I do not know how much damage has been done through the ravages of that insect, but it is considerable. The Consulate was not erected by the Government, and it is a very unsatisfactory building. In 1917 the condition became so bad that it was condemned as uninhabitable by the local authorities. My hon. Friend will agree that that is not a suitable building for a British Vice-Consul. Some time ago we decided to erect a new Vice-Consulate there, and I think the Committee will agree that it is quite time it was done.


I should like to emphasise the point I have already made. What has just fallen from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman is evidence of the scandalous way in which our Consular buildings have been protected in the past. As one who has spent a good deal of his time in different parts of the earth, in places where our British Consuls are situated in unhealthy and little-known spots, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to do this work at once, when this Vote has been passed. Would it be possible without great expense, when these new Consular buildings are undertaken, either under supplementary or ordinary Votes, to place upon the Table of this House some plan showing the type of building proposed to be erected, in view of the importance of having our Consular representatives properly housed in these different places?


The Noble Earl may rest assured that we will proceed with the work without delay. I will consider the last proposal he has made. I cannot give an answer now, but I should think it is possible to do what he sugests.

Question put, and agreed to.