HL Deb 10 July 1855 vol 139 cc659-71

in moving "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, for a Return of all Persons employed in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, with the dates of their first Appointments and of their subsequent Promotions," said, he thought it his duty to move for this Return in consequence of numerous attacks having lately been made, both in speeches and in writing, against the diplomatic service of the country. These attacks were most unfair as well as unfounded, and, if ever there was a time when it was injudicious and unpatriotic to depreciate the diplomatic service, he believed it was the present. The objections which had been made against the diplomatic system were twofold: first, that it was radically a bad system; and next, that it was badly conducted and administered. He was no opponent of administrative reform, and he had no doubt that in our diplomatic service there was abundant room for improvement; but at the same time he denied that the present system had worked ill, or that the diplomatic servants of the Crown had not performed their functions creditably, honourably, and usefully. It was said that too great favouritism was exhibited in the appointments which were made, that merit was almost invariably sacrificed to routine, and that no man could rise in the service by study, application, and ability alone. For his own part, he did not believe that merit had been sacrificed to routine, and it was to supply materials for thoroughly inquiring into any case of abuse that might be discovered that he moved for this Return. With regard to the charge that merit was entirely sacrificed to Parliamentary and political influence, he wished to call the attention of their Lordships to the fact, that in the twenty chief diplomatic missions—namely, the two embassies and eighteen first-class missions—the individuals who were now at the head of those missions, had been every one of them in the public service so long ago as the year 1828. That, to his mind, was a primâ facie evidence that persons were enabled to rise in the diplomatic service steadily and regularly, without political and Parliamentary influences preventing them from receiving the highest appointments in the service. The most important post in the diplomatic service was that of Ambassador. There were now only two ambassadors, and he denied that either of these had been appointed by favouritism. He was a member of the Government when the last appointment was made to the Embassy at Paris, and he knew of his own knowledge the great solicitude of his noble Friends then at the head of the Government, and of the Foreign Office (Lord John Russell and Earl Granville) to discover the best man who was suited to the post, and it was not until the most cautious and careful inquiry, that Lord Cowley had been selected for the appointment. Lord Cowley was not selected from motives of family connections or political friendship, but because he was looked upon as the best man who could be found to represent Her Majesty at Paris. No one could deny that Lord Stratford de Redcliffe was appointed to the Embassy at Constantinople because there was no other English subject so thoroughly conversant with Eastern politics, and he believed that the same principle generally guided our diplomatic appointments. He thought the present system was administered with fairness, although he did not say that no appointment was ever made from personal or political influences. But a number of persons would always carp at every appointment, not only in the diplomatic service, but also in the Church, in the army, in the navy, or in any other profession. The diplomatic service of no other country stood higher than our own, and, in his opinion, it had rendered great services to the nation. Many persons thought the duties which the members of that service had to perform were very slight, and some authorities, in their examination before the Committee of the House of Commons on Official Salaries, a few years ago, said, that now the communication between London and Paris was so easy, there was no occasion for any diplomatic agent at Paris, and that the watchfulness of the press was sufficient to keep us in possession of what was going forward abroad. He did not entertain that opinion. He thought, although brilliant abilities might not be necessary, great and peculiar qualifications were required in members of the service. The duty of a diplomatic agent was not merely to record facts, and he denied that the public opinion of foreign countries could be learnt from the press better than from the leading men of those countries. The French Revolution of 1848, was an event with regard to which it was most important that some warning should be received by the Government of this country, and he had referred back to see what trust was to be placed in the opinions expressed by the press upon that subject. The morning papers spared no expense in obtaining the best possible information upon all matters that passed abroad; The Times newspaper, especially, paid gentlemen with the greatest liberality to obtain information to guide their judgment as to what happened in foreign countries, selecting them, of course, not from motives of political bias or personal favour, but as the best men to be procured for that purpose. What was the information given by The Times upon this particular subject? On the first day of the revolution, when the barricades were being erected, the following passages appeared in an article upon the state of Paris:— The demonstration and the disturbances which occurred in Paris on Wednesday may occasion a vast deal of public alarm and some deplorable incidents; but we can entertain no doubt that, politically considered, they will tend to increase the strength of the Government and expose the imprudence of the Opposition. … We suspect it will turn out that no serious popular insurrection is even probable. The people have been stirred, but not inflamed. They are shaken, but not irritated; they are unarmed, and no preparations for insurrection had been made. Under such circumstances the result is certain. This showed that had the British Government been compelled to rely upon the press for information, on the real tone and aspect of affairs at Paris at that time, they would have been most grievously misled; but it so happened that their Minister on the spot was better informed than the newspaper correspondent, and he took care to advise his Government more truly in order that they might be prepared for the impending convulsion. It was said that the intelligence furnished by our diplomatic agents, was not so rapid as that received by other countries. This, however, he doubted; but of this he was certain, that the intelligence transmitted by our agents was more sure than that obtained by other States. Our diplomatic agents might not all be men of extraordinary sagacity, but they were all honest and faithful servants of the Crown, who did their duty well. Whatever might have led to the present war, certainly it was not owing to our diplomatic service. Sir Hamilton Seymour repeatedly warned our Government, both of the designs of Russia upon Turkey, and also of the large armaments she was collecting. Colonel Rose gave similar intimations; Lord Cowley kept our Cabinet perfectly informed of the intentions and wishes of the French Government; and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe urgently pressed on his Government the necessity of instant preparations for war, unless they desired to see Turkey handed over permanently to the predominant influence of Russia. Therefore, our diplomatic agents, instead of deserving blame, were entitled to the thanks of the country for their vigilant conduct. The position which they had to fill was neither easy nor lucrative, and the surrender of all the ties of home and of friendship which they were imperatively called upon to make, could only be compensated by the acquisition of honour and reputation. If, however, there was any case in which blame could fairly be imputed, be it that of an Attaché or a Minister, let it be fully sifted and investigated, and the blame justly distributed; but, surely, the whole service ought not to be disgusted and degraded in the eyes of Europe, by being indiscriminately aspersed and vilified. The noble Marquess concluded by moving for the Return.


My Lords, I do so entirely concur in everything that has fallen from my noble Friend in reference to the diplomatic servants of the Crown, and the manner in which they have performed their duties, that it would be an unnecessary waste of your Lordships' time were I to go over the same ground and use the same arguments as he has used to establish the same conclusion. I can say from my own knowledge—and from my knowledge of the opinions of my predecessors in office, I am quite sure that they will concur with me in so saying—that the British interests abroad are represented by the diplomatic servants of the Crown in a manner that does us very great credit; and that our international relations through the instrumentality of our foreign Ministers are maintained in a manner which is not only advantageous to this country, but which will be satisfactory to any one who has the means and the disposition to inquire into such matters, and who do not suppose, simply because the correspondence and proceedings with our foreign agents are not necessarily brought before the public, that therefore those international relations are not maintained in a proper manner. Whenever the necessity for the production of that correspondence and proceedings has arisen, I do not think it any exaggeration to say that the manner in which our foreign agents act upon their instructions, and act for themselves when they are unavoidably left without any instructions, is shown to be such as generally to fulfil the expectations and requirements of the country; and that the making known their proceedings to Parliament gives the best, because the most practical, refutation of those doubts and censures which have been, and are constantly made upon this particular branch of the public service. I quite concur with my noble Friend, that it is impossible that in a large body like the diplomatic body there should not be some men who possessed greater diligence and talents than others, and who have shown themselves more fit for particular posts than others; but I do say that, generally speaking, the interests of Great Britain abroad are represented fully as well, if not better, by our agents than by those of any other country; and that our interests are advanced and promoted not only with zeal and ability, but with that honourable and truthful straightforwardness of purpose which I hope will always be the leading feature of English policy, as it is of the English character. My noble Friend has not alluded to the consular service; but I should not be doing justice to a very large and deserving body of men if I did not testify to their merits and to the manner in which they perform their duties, which are often extremely arduous, and which always require great tact, great judgment, and extensive knowledge. I am sure that my predecessors in office will concur with what I say in reference to the consuls as well as in reference to the foreign Ministers, but I am perhaps in a more favourable position than any of my predecessors to speak of them, because in a state of war new duties have been imposed upon these bodies, which call for a greater amount of ability, tact, and knowledge, than is required by the duties of a time of peace. Your Lordships may judge of that when I say that the correspondence which has been received at the Foreign Office from abroad in 1853 amounted to 35,000 separate communications, and in 1854 to 48,000. I have always exercised my best abilities in reference to the business that passes through the Foreign Office; nothing is received there from abroad which does not obtain my attention, and nothing proceeds thence for which I do not consider myself responsible. Now, with reference to all that mass of correspondence, the instances in which it has been my agreeable duty to express satisfaction, and convey the approval of Her Majesty's Government, have been very frequent indeed; and the instances in which an opposite opinion has been expressed have been of extremely rare occurrence. As representing Her Majesty's Government, I think I cannot give a better proof of the satisfactory way in which our diplomatic and consular duties abroad have been performed than what that simple fact affords. As my noble Friend says, it would be invidious to allude to particular persons by name; but I agree with him that there is a great majority of our diplomatic servants abroad who are the right men in the right places; and that there are not any men that any Administrative Reform Association could give us, who would perform the function in a more satisfactory manner. My Lords, one of the great charges brought against the diplomatic service of this country is, that it is too aristocratic; now, that is a charge that is really somewhat vague, or at least which conveys no definite meaning. It is extremely difficult—and I rejoice that it is extremely difficult—to say what is aristocracy in this country, or where it begins, and where it ends. It would be absurd to say that the aristocracy is confined to your Lordships' House, to the bearers of titles, or to the branches of your Lordships' families, because there are names of which this country will ever be proud, and which will occur to every one of your Lordships—names of men of what is called humble origin, but who, by their talents and enterprise, have raised themselves to positions in which they are now fulfilling all the conditions of aristocracy, and who have more power and influence than the great majority of your Lordships. There are none of these men whose claims to have their sons attached to a foreign embassy would be disputed by any one; only they are far too wise to seek to place the members of their family in such a barren and unremunerative position. But, my Lords, there are some members of your Lordships' House who are occupying high posts in the diplomatic service. My noble Friend has instanced two, and I should like to know whether these two diplomatists could have their places filled by persons more capable than they of properly discharging the duties of their offices? Her Majesty's Minister in Spain had long been known in the profession before the Sovereign rewarded his father for his long services by giving him a title. Was his career in diplomacy to be cut short because he has inherited the title which his father had so honourably gained? The distinguished services of Her Majesty's ambassador at Constantinople, are too well known to your Lordships to require any comment; and nothing could be more true than what my noble Friend said in reference to Lord Cowley, who held a title which was conferred upon his father for long diplomatic services, and who had gone through all the different grades of diplomacy before he was selected by my noble Friend behind me to discharge the duties of an inferior mission to Frankfort, because he thought him the man most fit for the place. From that time to the present, his conduct has answered all the expectations formed of him, and has amply justified the opinion of those who selected him afterwards as the best person to represent the interests of England at Paris. Indeed, the whole course of Lord Cowley's conduct has fully justified the choice of my noble Friend, and it is in a great measure to his judgment, talent, and tact, that we are now indebted for the harmonious relations that exist between the two countries under somewhat difficult circumstances. There are also a few "honourables" in the service, and this is made a charge against it. I am at a loss to imagine why certain English gentlemen, upon whose education no care or expense has been spared, should not be permitted, in conjunction with others equally, but not more capable than themselves, to serve without salary until they become fit to be pampered upon a salary of 200l. a year. But, my Lords, there is now a cry for reducing those salaries, and for reducing the number of our diplomatic servants abroad, more particularly with reference to the missions to the German Courts. My Lords, I should at any time sincerely regret to destroy the hopes of men who have served for many years, and who look to those missions as the legitimate reward of their labours; but for public and political reasons I should regret to see those missions abolished, and more especially at the present moment, because such a proceeding would only tend to strengthen and confirm an unfortunate error that now prevails in Germany with respect to the indifference, not to say the hostile feeling, which is supposed to exist in England towards the Courts of Germany. Our endeavours should be to create confidence in the policy of the English Government and of the English people towards Germany; and I am sure that we are well entitled to that confidence. There is now a large proportion of the German prints that are actively engaged in representing the policy of England as hostile to the interests of Germany; and the result is, that a feeling of estrangement has grown up towards this country in the minds of the people of Germany which ought not to exist, and to which we should endeavour to put an end. We have no claim and no wish to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries, but we have a right, and we are justified in guarding ourselves against hostile misrepresentations. It is by constant interference and diplomatic agency that Russia has acquired that prodigious influence in Germany which really renders some of the German states more like outlying dependencies of the Russian empire than anything else, and has almost constituted the Emperor of Russia their Suzerain, instead of their being independent States. We cannot contend with Russia in the decorations and snuff-boxes which are scattered through Germany in such degraded profusion, but we can contend with her in everything where truth is concerned, and in everything which really affects the interests of the German people. We can show that people, by our acts, that our interests are identical—that we have no wish to see Germany weakened by disunion, or prevented from taking that part in European affairs which becomes them, and to which they are entitled by the intellect, enlightenment, and courage of the German people. We can show a hearty sympathy in all her progress, in art, in science, in education, and in liberal institutions to which the German mind is now directed; and I must say, my Lords, that if we were to abolish those four or five inferior German missions it would be to proclaim to all Germany that we do not think it worth while to retain her friendship or her alliance. Why, we should leave the field open and unopposed to our enemies throughout the Continent, and I am convinced that it would be an ungenerous and short-sighted policy, which, whether we are at peace or whether we are at war, would not be long in making us experience its bad effects. My Lords, I thank you for the attention with which you have listened to me. Of course, there can be no objection to the returns my noble Friend has moved for, and when they are ready I shall be able to answer any questions to which they may give rise. I hope then to be able to show that, so far as I am concerned, I have done all in my power, as my predecessors have done before me, to find the right men for the right places, independent of private influence and Parliamentary motives.


My Lords, shall be very brief in the remarks I am going to make on the present occasion, as they will all be of an entirely personal character. In another place, which it would not be right of me to mention, there was made what may have appeared to be a personal attack on myself, which I was glad to learn was not intentionally made—by a Gentleman from whom I had the advantage of receiving some useful assistance when I was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The hon. Gentleman to whom I refer made an attack on the diplomatic and consular service, and stated that he was able to speak of the state of the diplomatic service, for he had himself been in the diplomatic service, and also in the Foreign Office during my administration. One great charge which was made was this—that promotions in the diplomatic service were owing to favouritism; and the obvious inference to be drawn from this—as the hon. Member spoke of his experience having been gained while under me in the Foreign Office—was, that the promotions made by me were made on account of favouritism. I am, however, happy to state that the hon. Member says that it was not his intention to make such a charge against me, for he had no objection to the appointments made by me, as they were excellent. One appointment which I made, and which has been invidiously mentioned in the other House, was that of the son of the noble Marquess—Hubert de Burgh; but I do not think it necessary to apologise either to the country or your Lordships for giving an appointment to the grandson of Mr. Canning. The other appointment which I made was sanctioned by my colleagues, but suggested by me—I allude to Lord Cowley's appointment. I had no political motives in appointing the noble Lord, for he declined giving his proxy to the Government. My acquaintance with him was very short; but I knew the liberal opinions which he held with regard to foreign affairs, and judging from his despatches of his good sense and judgment, I considered him the best man for the appointment. The noble Earl has referred to the title of Lord Cowley, and it appeared to me that it was an advantage that the noble Lord had a title, which was not only gained by diplomatic services, but which was associated in the minds of the majority of Parisians with a character of unblemished honour and great straightforwardness. Then there was another other appointment I made of great importance—that of our Minister to the United States. I was not actuated in this by any political or class feeling when I gave this appointment to the son of an eminent surgeon; but by the opinion I had formed of him from his despatches—by the recommendation of my noble Friend, who did not ask for the appointment as a favour, but recommended the gentleman I allude to as the fittest man for the place. I may mention, before I conclude, that, with regard to the question of administrative reform, we are a little in advance of my Friend Mr. Layard. Some time ago when I found it necessary to communicate with Lord Burlington, who is at the head of the London University, with respect to the educational test to be required of candidates, my opinion on this subject was somewhat, though only slightly, shaken by Mr. Layard, who then objected to any educational test whatsoever. Since last year a plan has been proposed for throwing open the appointments to the civil service to open competition—this plan was proposed by the Gentlemen connected with the Treasury, and sanctioned by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. This plan, whatever its other defects may be, has the advantage of cutting off all hopes of appointments through favouritism; and I believe that those who have spoken in favour of this are only the noble Duke near me, myself, and the noble Lord who but lately joined the Government. I am glad, however, to see that Mr. Layard has taken up this question, with respect to which we are, as in the rest, a little in advance of him.


said, that from his experience he could confirm that his noble Friends were fully justified in every word of eulogy they had expressed with reference to those who were engaged in our diplomatic service throughout the world. Mr. Layard was a living proof that the statesmen of the present day, so far as the patronage of the Foreign Office was concerned, did not neglect merit. When Lord Derby came into power, Mr. Layard was about to quit office along with the noble Earl opposite; but the first instructions which he (the Earl of Malmesbury) received from Lord Derby were to invite that Gentleman to remain at his post until some other arrangements were made, coupling that invitation with an assurance that he should then be promoted in the diplomatic profession, to which he had formerly belonged. Therefore, Mr. Layard should be the last man in the world to say that "the right man" was not put in "the right place," so far as the Foreign Office was concerned. During the time that he (the Earl of Malmesbury) held the seals of the Foreign Department he had given some attention to the important subject of education, and a plan of examination for candidates of the diplomatic service had been drawn up in the Foreign Office; but he felt perfectly convinced that, whatever system of examination might be adopted, the Secretary of State ought to be the only person to judge whom he would employ in this or that post. It was impossible for any man to undertake a position of such enormous responsibility without having the power to appoint under him those men whom he thought best qualified for the service. Nothing could be more disheartening to the head of a great department than to have Commissioners appointing his servants independently of him, and yet to be held responsible to Parliament for failure in carrying out his plans, when the instruments appointed to execute them were men not chosen by himself.


said, that nothing had struck him more forcibly, in reference to the diplomatic service, than the circumstance that, though it was called a profession, yet it was not regarded as a profession. It very frequently occurred that men of rank were taken from the military and naval services, from the ordinary civil service, and, in fact, from no service at all, to be sent on important missions, being thus put into the places that ought to be the legitimate prizes, as they were the legitimate objects, of ambition to the members of the profession properly so called. As a professional man that struck him as being very hard to the members of the diplomatic service. No doubt it was necessary that the Government should have this power, as they might not be able on an occasion to find just the man they wanted for a particular post in the ranks of the diplomatic service. The noble Lords who had preceded him seemed to think that the diplomatic service was entirely free from all party bias; but, in truth, the whole system of our Government was one party. He did not complain of this, for it was natural that the great parties by whom the country was governed should desire to choose their own servants, but he maintained that the profession ought to be kept free from all such considerations. He did not know what might be the case with regard to other professions, but Governments of late years had certainly taken upon themselves to select men by favouritism in the profession to which he belonged—the navy.

Motion agreed to.

Then the EARL OF HARDWICKE movedThat there be laid before this House, Copy of a Memorial from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, urging on the Postmaster General the Importance of immediately re-establishing Postal Steam Communication with Australia.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned till To-morrow.