HL Deb 08 March 1900 vol 80 cc342-4

My Lords, I rise to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the valuable services rendered by Lord Pauncefote as Ambassador at Washington, the advisability of further prolonging his tenure of office will be considered. In putting this question, perhaps it would be as well if I explained that there is an excellent rule in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, instituted, if I am not mistaken, by the noble Marquess the Prime Minister himself, that all persons holding office should retire on attaining the age of seventy. That rule has been rigidly observed, and the only exception I can recall is the case of the late Lord Lyons. Lord Pauncefote has attained the age of seventy, and his tenure of office has already, I believe, been extended for one year. It is the general feeling that under the exceptional circumstances which prevail a further relaxation of the official regulations might in this case be made with advantage. It is quite unnecessary, and it would, indeed, be presumptuous on my part to do so, to dwell on the excessive, I may almost say overwhelming, importance of our relations with the Government of the United States at the present moment, but there is no harm in saying that the task of maintaining those relations upon their present happy footing is not likely to prove less difficult in the immediate future. In addition to questions of great delicacy and great intricacy which are now pending, we have looming in the near future a Presidential election, and as your Lordships are aware, a Presidential election in America is productive of political eccentricities which are unknown in older and less enterprising countries. I need scarcely remind your Lordships of the unfortunate occurrences which took place during the tenure of office of former Ambassadors. Under these circumstances it will probably have occurred to almost everybody that the present moment is hardly an opportune one for a change, more especially as this country happens to be represented by a highly distinguished public servant who not only enjoys the confidence of his own countrymen, but is in the happy position of being at once apparently a persona grata to the Government of the United States and also to the American people. I observe that the answer to the question which I have put on the Paper has already been supplied in anticipation by one of the newspapers. I have no means of ascertaining whether this semi-official announcement is well founded or not; but I am convinced of this, that if the noble Marquess is in a position to officially corroborate what has been unofficially stated it will give universal and unmixed satisfaction.


My Lords, my noble friend has rather done what the French call breaking in an open door, because this measure, which he properly recommends, was taken some days ago. I entirely agree, and every one must agree, in any eulogy passed on Lord Pauncefote, and I have shown that I concur with the noble Lord by the course I have taken in extending his tenure of office. The only observation I would make is that the noble Lord's question rather implied that this extension is a reward for valuable services. I think that the case stands the other way. It is to Lord Pauncefote we have to express our thanks that he has been kind enough to undertake the work for another period. He does so at considerable inconvenience, as he has sent his family to England, and without wishing to say anything indiscreet about the American climate, I believe the summer is not the most desirable period of the year. Therefore we have every cause to express our gratitude to Lord Pauncefote that at a critical time when his remarkable experience and the singular aptitude he has shown in the fulfilment of the peculiar duties of his office render it desirable he should continue in it, he has consented to do so.


My Lords, I think we may in one sense be grateful to the noble Lord opposite for mentioning this matter, although we were aware that the period of service of Lord Pauncefote was to be prolonged. It has given us an opportunity of expressing our great satisfaction with what has been done, and that Lord Pauncefote, at his age and at a time of the year when the American climate is not very agreeable, is willing to place his valuable services at the disposal of the Government for a longer period.