HL Deb 02 July 1941 vol 119 cc601-30

LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can give more information with regard to the projected changes in the organization of the Diplomatic Service; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I would explain that in putting this question on the Paper I did not do so with a view, as would appear from its wording, of eliciting further information from His Majesty's Government on the projected reforms in the Foreign Service I think it would have been unreasonable, at this time, to have expected them to have so formulated their ideas as to give anything like a full report. My object was to initiate some discussion in your Lordships' House upon this subject, because there happen to be in the House a considerable number of Peers who were eminent members of the Diplomatic Service in times past, and I thought it would be an advantage for His Majesty's Government to be able to hear their views and glean from them what is the proper course to be taken.

The subject of reform has engaged the attention of a good many people. Although I had neither a long nor a distinguished career in the Diplomatic Service, I was brought into contact early with the need for changes, many of which have been carried out in the interval since I retired from the Service. When, after nine or ten years in the Service, I found myself, on my return to work in the Foreign Office, occupied in locking and unlocking cupboards, in putting numbers on papers, in sorting prints, in doing up and sealing bags—all of which functions I performed very indifferently, not having been trained to do them—it was brought home to me that, after so much time and expense had been spent in preparing me for entry into the Service, it was rather a waste of one's life to continue, though I saw no other prospect, with this class of work. I was therefore induced at an early stage to suggest reforms, and I sent them to the then Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Sir Thomas Sanderson, afterwards Lord Sanderson, a member of your Lordships' House. He was not impressed by them and they were turned down. I then felt that an approach should be made in another direction. The Ridley Royal Commission—which, I think, sat in 1890—had made certain suggestions, and I noticed that in the MacDonell Commission, which published its Report in 1915, these suggestions were repeated, which shows what is well known to your Lordships, that Royal Commissions have the effect of making the outside public think that something has been done, whereas the recommendations are put on the shelf and very soon are covered with dust.

The chief reform suggested at that time was that there should be amalgamation between the Diplomatic Service and the Foreign Office, which was quite obviously a thing which ought to have been carried out long before, to enable Foreign Office clerks to see something of posts abroad and to allow those who had served long terms abroad to have an opportunity of seeing the central point of view in London. Another reform was the abolition of the personal nomination by the Secretary of State, and the abolition of the insistence on £400 a year private means from competitors in the examination. I think that has lately been referred to as if it had not been brought about, but it has.. Even these suggestions, together with a Committee of Selection, were only adopted at a later period when Sir Charles. Hardinge was Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. It is largely due to him that changes were made, and they were all improvements. I very much regret that my noble friend Lord Hardinge has been prevented at the last moment from attending this debate, as he had intended to say a few words, and his authority would have been of a kind that would necessarily have been listened to, not only by your Lordships, but by His Majesty's Government, in framing any new proposals.

The Committee of Selection still sits, but I am informed that it does not function quite satisfactorily. It is supposed to be representative of the three political Parties—though I do not quite understand why that should be, because diplomatic work ought to be kept out of politics as much as possible—and Civil Service Commissioners, representatives of the foreign services. I served on it myself in 1924 when I was Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. I am told it still functions, but the tendency is rather to favour what I may briefly call the old school tie. I rather think that if one of the candidates comes forward and declares that he has been a Blue at either of the Universities, his chances of competing in the examination are greatly enhanced. From those who served on the Committee there is a recommendation that the age at which candidates should be allowed to present themselves for examination should be extended, at least up to thirty, in-order that they may have an opportunity of preparing themselves for the work, and I do not see that there is any reason why that age should not be extended.

The only new proposals, so far as I have seen the outline of what the Government intend to bring forward, are that the Consular Service should be amalgamated with the Foreign Office and the Diplomatic Service, and that a system of early pensions should be instituted. I should just like to say a word or two on those two points. Consuls are not excluded from diplomatic posts. On the contrary, some pf the most prominent of the diplomats of the last fifty years started as Consuls. I would just refer to three of them: Sir Thomas Wade, who started as Vice-Consul at Shanghai and was Minister in China from 1871 to 1883, was about the greatest Chinese scholar that Britain has ever possessed. Sir William White, who ended as quite a famous Ambassador in Constantinople, began his life as a Consular clerk, and was Minister at Bucharest. Sir Ernest Satow was another. He was Consul in 1861, became Consul at Bangkok, and afterwards Minister in Morocco and, subsequently, in Japan. I could quote others, but I do not want to waste your Lordships' time, to show that if any Consul shows the necessary qualities there is nothing to debar him from being used in the Diplomatic Service; but the idea of a rigid Service which combines all Consuls, who for the most part work on quite different lines and very specialised lines, mixed with the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service, does not appeal to me as an improvement at all.

What I think those names I have quoted show is that what is very much wanted is a system (your Lordships will excuse me using the word, but it is the only one I can think of) of regionalisation. It is at present used for the Far East, for the Levant interpreters; that is to say, when a man dwells in a certain region, acquaints himself with the work and the habits of the people and the history of the country, and becomes qualified for that region. The tendency which I think still exists to move a diplomatist or a Consul from, say, Central Europe—Warsaw, Bucharest, or wherever it may be—to South America is quite unreasonable. It reminds one of a badly-run multiple store, which sends a man who is in the jewellery department to the grocery department. I think that this regionalisation of those who are prepared to devote their time to one special part of the world, while it should not be applied to a complete extent, would be a very great advantage. I think also that there should be expert advisers in every Embassy, not only, as now, naval, military and air experts, but commercial and economic experts, and also some permanent official, generally referred to as a "Chancelier," who would "know the ropes" of the particular capital concerned.

We have not been given particulars of the pension scheme, and I do not quite understand how it will work. I was under the impression that at the present time, unless a diplomat reached a certain seniority before he was a certain age he might be invited to retire on a pension. If a certain weeding out of what is called "dead wood" is left to the arbitrary decision of some official, the position will be very difficult. It must be remembered that posts in the Diplomatic Service vary very greatly, and it is hardly fair for a man who has spent his time in Berlin, Rome or one of the other great capitals of Europe to have his work compared with that of someone who has spent years in South America, for instance at Bogota, where he has had no chance of distinguishing himself. These "shelves" in the Diplomatic Service—for they are shelves—are certainly useful in keeping people out of harm's way, but I think that it is rather a drastic suggestion that men should be forced to take a pension and to leave the Service. We shall perhaps hear something of how the Department of Overseas Trade works. I am told that there is a great deal of overlapping, that the Department does not work very well with the Board of Trade, and that there is constant difficulty with the Consular Service. I think there is room for improvement there.

I now come to a different class of person who is used in the Diplomatic Service, what I may term the outsider; and here some very valuable names occur to us. To mention only a very few, Lord Cromer in Egypt is a notable instance, and Lord Derby in Paris, Lord D'Abernon in Berlin, and recently the late Lord Lothian, whose death we deplore so much, occurring as it did so soon after his appointment to the United States of America. At the present time Sir Stafford Cripps has been commended for his services with the Soviet Government. These particular appointments from outside, of course, block promotion in the Diplomatic Service, and the man who has joined the Diplomatic Service and looks forward to a career may find his chances slipping away if other people are put in; but I am very much in favour of there being no rigidity, of not requiring a man in the Diplomatic Service to have had specialised knowledge. Sole discretion should rest with the Secretary of State to pick out the man he thinks best suited for a post at any particular moment.

The Secretary of State should not be hampered in any way. He will have the advice of the permanent head of the Foreign Office, who is at present a very capable official, Sir Alexander Cadogan, and he should make himself cognisant of the members of the Service. I would emphasize that point. I think that the Secretary of State should make it part of his duty to see diplomats when they come home on leave. I remember that in my own day, and I think not so very long ago, when one went to the Private Secretary's room in the Foreign Office on coming home on leave, someone used to look up from a writing table and say, "Hullo! Let us see; where do you come from?" One thought that one had been doing work that had been noticed by the Foreign Office, and that was rather a setback. I think that there ought to be closer contact. It would be time far from wasted if the Secretary of State went out of his way to see the members of the Foreign Service, and particularly those who had been some time abroad. For this purpose also I think that there should be a room in the Foreign Office where diplomats on leave could see the papers and could meet their colleagues, thus helping to promote a sort of corporate organisation, which the scattered members cannot do at the present moment.

Further, since when working for their examinations it is necessary for candidates constantly to go abroad, they have very little knowledge of their own country. I think that at some period after the examinations, when they are serving a probationary period in the Foreign Office, they should be encouraged, and in fact compelled, to see institutions in their own country. I have known cases where young diplomats have been told to report on institutions such as hospitals and prisons in a foreign country, and where they have been very ready to do so and capable of doing so, but they have lacked the knowledge of a standard by which to judge these institutions, because they did not know what the institutions in their own country were like. They should have, therefore, a very much better knowledge of the organisation and administration of their own country, and be able to judge the situation elsewhere as being either an improvement on or as not coming up to our standard.

I noticed that in another place the Secretary of State was asked whether he would admit women into the Diplomatic Service, and I saw that he very tactfully avoided answering that question. I myself think that women have the requisite qualities to make extremely efficient diplomatists, and so far I should readily agree with women being admitted; but in studying that particular branch of the question I have always felt rather thwarted by one point. An Ambassador's wife is a person of very great importance who can contribute greatly to an Ambassador's career and an Ambassador's success. As we all know, a great deal is done in diplomacy even in these days by social intercourse, and the Ambassador's wife is certainly very high up in the staff of any Embassy. But what about an Ambassadress's husband? I have never known how to dispose of him. He could wander into the Chancellery and make himself a perfect nuisance, and nobody could say anything to him. Of course you could get over the difficulty by saying that female competitors for the diplomatic examination must be spinsters, but that would raise another lot of difficulties, so for the time being we had better not confuse the importance of these reforms by introducing these rather complicated social questions.

We live in times that have changed completely from not so very long ago. I was reading in the life of Stratford de Redcliffe, who was Ambassador at Constantinople from 1810 to 1812, that the Foreign Secretary and Under-Secretary sent to His Majesty's Minister at Constantinople sixteen Dispatches in two years, and not one of these documents had any bearing on the intricate and important negotiations which the Ambassador was then conducting at the Porte. What an extraordinary contrast to-day, when the Ambassador telegraphs or even telephones to the Foreign Office for instructions when he is going to see the Foreign Minister at the Court to which he is accredited, in the afternoon. That shows how the functions of the diplomatist have altered. Whereas the responsibility on his shoulders was crucial, vital, and had to be discharged by him after only consultation with his secretaries, now the whole power is centralised in the Secretary of State at home.

That does not mean that the man on the spot, from whom any wise Secretary or State will take advice, should not be a man who is trained for the modern rough and tumble of diplomacy. I see our Foreign Secretary said in answer to a question in the House of Commons that he hoped that these reforms would ensure that "future entrants into the Foreign Service would possess greater imagination, initiative, willingness to accept responsibility"; and, I would add, vigilance, tact, discretion, and good judgment. If the Secretary of State knows of a school, university, academy, or new sort of crammer where these qualities can be developed, he would be doing the greatest service not only to the Foreign Service but to many other public services in the Kingdom. Do not let us suppose for one moment that the set of qualitites I have enumerated can be taught. They cannot be taught. It is really true that a good diplomatist nascitur non fit. Do not let us try and reach out and suppose that we can redevelop human beings by any form of examination, test, or committee of selection. The diplomatists of to-day really have more difficult lives than they ever had in the past, often in personal danger, and they work according to their lights, always basing the whole of their view on what we all regard as the foundation of our foreign policy, however weakly carried out, however shifting it may be, and that is decency and not intrigue. My connection with the Foreign Service has certainly convinced me that whether we have a Conservative, a Liberal, or a Labour Government in power, so far as foreign nations are concerned, we try, very often badly, to do the decent thing. I am afraid we are in a very small minority amongst the Governments of the world to-day.

Finally I would point out that this possible amalgamation of the Consular Service, which I do not think is either necessary or desirable, and possibly a pension scheme are trivial matters which can be done by a stroke of the pen. Why have we had so much trumpeting? Why have we had headlines in the newspapers and paragraphs, and a tremendous lot of ignorant talk about the Diplomatic Service? Why is it? Why, in these days, when every day something of shattering importance seems to happen? It is obviously—and most people agree with me—because the blame for the series of blunders during the last two or three years is, in a sort of perfectly calm but deliberate way, shifted on to the shoulders of the diplomatists, on to His Majesty's representatives in the various capitals. That is most unfair. It has been taken like that. I have seen Press notices saying, "At last we shall have a change to prevent this sort of thing happening." The whole authority and responsibility have centred in the Government at home, and it is unfair that the diplomatists who are doing their best to carry out their instructions should have, by a side wind, this rather unfortunate innuendo cast on their work.

I do not think any one of them can be pointed to as having failed to perform his duties, and if little reforms here and there can be shown as necessary, let them be done, and let the Secretary of State do them and tell us about them at a moment when he thinks fit. I should have thought that this is the very worst moment to make any change. It would be better to wait for calmer times. I only want to stand up for the Service on this question and assert that whatever failures there have been in the last two or three years, the diplomatists, at any rate, are not to blame. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, in rising for the first time to address your Lordships' House, may I ask for a special measure of the indulgence which it is customary to extend to those who have had little practice in the art of public speaking? The subject before your Lordships seems to me to be of great importance, and I think we ought to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for having brought it forward. With your Lordships' concurrence I should like to deal with three aspects of the subject—namely, the causes of the proposed reforms, the method adopted for their introduction, and, lastly, the value of the reforms themselves.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place when he explained the reforms paid a warm tribute to the devoted and able work done by the members of the Diplomatic and the Consular Services in very difficult conditions. I think that tribute was well-deserved, and I wonder whether the work would have been more able and effective had the proposed reforms already been in operation. I know allusions are, and often have been, made in public to what is styled the failure of British diplomacy. I do not think that the members of the Diplomatic or the Consular Services can be held responsible for such failures, if failures there have been. They surely must rather be attributed to our foreign policy, and foreign policy is primarily the concern of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, though it ultimately must and should be the responsibility of His Majesty's Government as a whole.

In a recent debate in your Lordships' House on propaganda the noble Lord who replied for the Government—who I hope will make a speedy recovery—made a striking and very pertinent observation. He stated as a self-evident fact that foreign policy is only really effective if it has behind it the backing of force. That principle would certainly have been fully approved by the noble Lord's distinguished grandfather who held the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when I entered the Foreign Office. But since 1918 some of His Majesty's Governments have it seems to me been inclined to forget this self-evident fact and have pursued a foreign policy which had not perhaps the requisite backing to be effective, since they had allowed the force behind our foreign policy to dwindle. A foreign policy pursued under such conditions is in fact a policy of bluff and I need not dwell upon the dangers which may arise from it. But in any event the Diplomatic Service, as I have said, does not determine policy. It can only offer advice to His Majesty's Government and make recommendations which may or may not be followed.

A second criticism of the Diplomatic Service is to the effect that the heads of our Missions abroad have failed on occasions to inform the Government fully of the general trend of political currents in the countries to which they were accredited. Such an accusation is totally without foundation. If your Lordships could have access to the archives, and see the Dispatches sent home by heads of Missions, you would find that not only are political tendencies, but also the military, economic, financial and social (including labour) conditions of the country in question, fully explained. I do not think His Majesty's Government have ever had to complain of lack of information. There may be, of course, errors of judgment on the part of the head of the Mission as to the deductions to be drawn from the data, but the data are, I am sure, ample and sufficient for the policy of His Majesty's Government to be drawn up on a firm foundation. I have pointed out that policy is determined by the Government and not by the Diplomatic Service. It is the duty of the latter to supply accurate information on which policy can be based. The conclusion to which I come, and with which I hope your Lordships will agree, is that the Diplomatic Service cannot and should not be blamed or made a scapegoat for alleged failures of our diplomacy or for failure to supply adequate information to the Government. On that I fully endorse all that the noble Lord said just now.

I now pass to the method adopted to introduce the proposed reforms. It seems to me rather odd that these reforms should be brought forward in the welter of the greatest war which we have ever fought. Had the situation been normal the customary procedure would have been to set up either a Royal Commission or a strong ad hoc Committee to take evidence and report to the Government. It seems to me that in the present case what has been done is very different. As far as I understand it, the problem was referred to one man, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has announced his agreement with the recommendations he made. It is perfectly true that the individual in question has had a long and distinguished diplomatic experience, and also a notable business career, but I wonder if it is wise and prudent that what I may perhaps term war-time methods should be applied to proposed reforms of this kind. I am sure that any appointments or arrangements which His Majesty's Government thought fit to make to meet the war emergency would have your Lordships' most sympathetic consideration; but these reforms which have a permanent character in my view go beyond any war emergency.

I hope in any event that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who I understand is to reply to this debate, will promise us at least publication of Sir Malcolm Robertson's Report and the terms of reference to him. The publication of those documents will enable your Lordships to form a considered judgment on the main points of the reforms, such as the complete divorce of the Foreign Service from the home Civil Service and the combination of the Consular Services with the Foreign Office Diplomatic Services. Until we have seen Sir Malcolm Robertson's Report I think we should keep an open mind as to whether these reforms will produce more efficiency in our diplomacy. There is, however, one reform which I trust will be very widely welcomed; that is the retirement on pension of any member of the Foreign Service who is unfitted to occupy the higher posts. If this power is conferred on the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs I hope it will be exercised ruthlessly and even at the earlier stages of an official's career. I presume that as a corollary there will be far more promotion by merit than has taken place in the past, and, therefore, the dead, depressing weight of promotion only by seniority will be removed. If this happens I think one of the greatest steps possible will have been taken towards increasing the efficiency of the Diplomatic Service.

There are other incidental points in the reforms on which perhaps we may receive more enlightenment from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. What will be the status of the experts who are to give advice to heads of Missions on commercial, economic, financial and military matters and on social and labour questions? Are they to form part of the Foreign Service? If not, are not the members of the Foreign Service likely to disinterest themselves in the study of these most important developments in the national life of the country in which they reside? Frankly, I do not understand the allusion to the reform whereby men without means will be allowed in future to enter the Diplomatic Service. As the noble Lord has pointed out, when the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Services were amalgamated we were definitely assured that the salaries paid would be sufficient to enable anyone to live on his pay, and I believe the necessary financial arrangements were then made. All these points will, however, no doubt be much clearer if the Government will, as I hope, consent to the publication of Sir Malcolm Robertson's Report and of the terms of reference to him.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby asked your indulgence in addressing you on this subject on the ground that his connection with the Diplomatic Service had been short. I am afraid his career was much more distinguished than mine, because he did end as Under-Secretary of State whereas I never got beyond being Charge d'Affaires in Abyssinia, and I think in Paris for two days when everybody higher up happened to be away. Nobody in the Foreign Service nor anybody who has been much abroad can fail to be interested in the reforms that are projected. As my noble friend the Karl of Perth said, we are very much in the dark as to what these reforms really are, because the Report has not been published and all we have to go upon is an answer to a question in another place.

There did emerge one or two very important points to which attention has been already drawn, but one point which I do not think has been mentioned yet strikes me as of paramount importance. I gather from the Foreign Secretary's reply that these reforms involve: the recovery by the Foreign Service of the independence from the rest of the Civil Service which it used to enjoy. If that is so, it is a very great advantage. It means that the Secretary of State will be once more master in his own house and that the Service will not be subjected in any way to the intervention of the head of the Civil Service. The only similarity between the Diplomatic Service, the Foreign Service, and the rest of the Civil Service is that they wear the same uniform. Their business and the qualities required of them are quite distinct. Can you imagine, for example, a very efficient Secretary of the Embassy in Constantinople being transferred to a post of similar standing in the Civil Service in the Board of Trade or the Scottish Office? The Diplomatic and Foreign Service is much more akin to the Army and the Navy than it is to the Civil Service. The duties, after all, of diplomats are to defend the interests of the country and to strengthen our position.

Much has been said, and rightly said, about the unjust criticism that has been passed on the diplomats. My Lords, diplomats can only play the hand that is dealt to them by the Government at home, and to put it in the vernacular they have had a mighty raw deal for a good many years past. May I from my own experience give your Lordships a contrast? It happened that forty-one years ago, when we were in the middle of the South African war, I was serving in our Legation in Abyssinia and the Emperor Menelik asked our Minister, my chief, how we were getting on with the war. My chief said, "Very badly," which rather surprised the Emperor. However after a moment the Minister continued, "That does not disturb me in the least. We always begin wars badly, and they always end all right. You will see it is the same in this case." Then the Minister said—and this is the point of the story—"I understand that certain people have been urging you to take advantage of our hands being full in the south to attack us in the Sudan, on the ground that after we have finished with the war in South Africa we shall then go for Abyssinia." The Emperor Menelik showed no sign of life, and after a short interval my chief said; "I wonder if these people who have been urging you to attack us have offered you any help." Again there was complete silence. Then the Minister asked for a map, which of course the Emperor Menelik did not understand, but he was shown on the map the brown representing the land of Africa, and the blue representing the sea. The Emperor Menelik had not seen the sea, but he did know Lake Tsana. He was asked to compare the size of the sea with the size of Lake Tsana, and the Minister said: "If any nation has offered you any help please be quite sure of one thing. There is no nation in the world that can send a single man across the sea because we control the whole of the seas." The result of that was completely satisfactory.

That was diplomacy in the olden days when we were reinforced by the only thing which will reinforce diplomacy. Compare that with what has been happening in Baghdad. Your Lordships may have noticed in the newspapers yesterday a reference to the fact that for seven years the Germans have had the same Minister in Baghdad, a man who has used his great abilities in advancing German interests and the German point of view. During the same time we have been represented by three or four different men, and we had queered our pitch so far as the Moslems are concerned by the Balfour Declaration. Not only have we been handicapped by having antagonised the whole Moslem world, but also we have not given our men time enough to establish themselves in the community among which they were living. I give those two examples because I feel they are pertinent, and they show that whatever has been lacking and whatever mistakes may have been made have been made here at home by politicians and not by the Service.

My noble friend referred to the provision for retirement. I think that is extremely important, and that it will bring the Diplomatic Service into line with the other two Services, the Navy and the Army, to which the Foreign Service is much more akin than the rest of the. Civil Service. If a man does not achieve a certain rank in the Army or Navy, he retires with a pension quite early—round about forty, I think. In the Diplomatic Service he has had to be kept on until he is sixty to do very important work, although it may have been quite obvious for many years that he is not really pulling his weight. I hope not only that that reform will be carried out, but that the natural corollary will be added and that the retirement age of sixty will be abolished and that seventy will again be substituted as it was in the past.


Hear, hear.


My noble friend cheers and he is entitled to do so because he deliberately retired at sixty—greatly to the misfortune of the country, I think. He is therefore not complaining that he was kicked out at sixty under these new rules. When you come to think of it an Ambassador does not need to be physically in robust health. What he does require is to have experience, prestige, the regard of the community in which he lives; in fact, all the qualities which we see and admire in our friends the Foreign Ambassadors whom we have known during our lives here. The idea of withdrawing a man because he has reached a certain age in the book, though he is still doing his work splendidly, seems to me to be perfectly silly. It is like withdrawing a General Officer on active service though he is doing very well work of extreme importance, just because he has reached the age limit. I hope we may take it that in recovering once more its independence from the Civil Service the Diplomatic Service will revert to the old and successful age limit of seventy instead of sixty. It does not mean that people will have to serve long after they are fit to serve because, as I understand it, you are taking power to get rid of a man when he ought to be got rid of: when it is obvious that he is not going to blossom out into an Ambassador.

There is another point about the position of an Ambassador. The Foreign Office—there may be good reasons for doing so; I am not acquainted with them—has divested itself of a good many different forms of authority in favour of new departments. Very important work which used to be done, and ought, I think, to be done by the Foreign Office, is now being done at the Ministry of Economic Warfare. I think the Minister of Information also comes into the picture somewhere. Then there is that admirable institution, if properly used, the British Council. I do suggest that it is of vital importance that an Ambassador or Minister, as the case may be, should be the effective head of whatever British organisation is working in a foreign country. It is necessary for his own prestige and the success of the organisation. It is intolerable that anybody should be working independently of the head of the Mission who represents both the Sovereign and the Government. I think it should be made clear that these various activities should come under the Minister or Ambassador.

I am as much in the dark as my noble friend Lord Perth, as to what is meant by the phrase "broadening the basis of recruiting." It is a phrase which has been used for very many years in connexion with the Service. It must be remembered that the Diplomatic Service is a very small service. The members of the Service are very much en evidence. The biggest Mission does not consist of more than six or seven people and each one of them represents the British nation. They are in a very prominent position, they have to be linguists, and they ought to be very carefully chosen. By all means get the best men you can from any source; but I do hope that this will not mean that you propose to exclude the selection of such men as have been chosen in the past. That of course remains to be seen.

Finally, may I say that I think it says a great deal for the vigour and vitality of the Diplomatic Service that it has survived twenty years of the activities of the League of Nations? With that I am afraid my noble friend Lord Perth will not agree, but he is in a rather difficult position: I had better talk to him afterwards. As I see it, this is what has happened. Proper attention was not paid to the reports sent home from Ministers and Ambassadors abroad. During the nefarious activities of that institution the League of Nations, more attention has been paid to speeches made by politicians and to resolutions passed by the League than to the Dispatches sent home by Ministers abroad. If you want a really good instance of that, look at the Dispatch of the late Sir Horace Rumbold. Everybody probably has read the final Dispatch which he wrote when he left Berlin after three months' experience of Hitler. In three months that very great diplomatist retired under the age limit. It was most foolish that he should have had to do so and greatly to the detriment of the interests of this country. In his Dispatch he summed up the situation and prophesied the future with an accuracy which was absolutely uncanny. It is not to be believed that any attention was paid to that Dispatch or to the wisdom of the man who wrote it. Instead of that, far more attention was paid to the resolutions passed at the League of Nations. I do not know how these two things can be reconciled.

The fact remains that the Service has done well in the past under very great difficulties, but I would suggest that it is useless to think that you can bluff, for your bluff is bound to be called sooner or later, and if you have nothing behind it you are in a far worse state than you were before. I venture to make these suggestions in the hope that they may be taken into account when the whole question of the reform of the Service is being considered. It is curious that vital reform of so important a branch of our Service should be entrusted to one man. On the other hand that man was an admirable diplomat himself; he knows where the shoe pinches. He has also had great success at business, and he knows where support of the Diplomatic Service might best have been exercised in a far more effective manner than it has been exercised in the past. So, although it is unusual, there may be something to be said for entrusting this task to one man. I think, for example, that you would probably get a more efficient lot of reforms from him than you would get from a committee constituted—as all committees in this country seem to have to be constituted—of people drawn from all three political Parties. To have had a committee of that kind would I think have been a great mistake. I do hope that these reforms will be thoroughly gone into and that the various points suggested to-day may be taken into account.


My Lords, I did not intend to speak to-day, having spoken a week ago on a somewhat similar branch of the subject. I rise, however, because I want to say just a word or two based upon the results of my own long experience. I think that, probably, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Newton, I am the member of the House who has been longest in the Diplomatic Service. I should like to say that I find myself in agreement, as I very often do, with almost everything that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has said. He is apt to be regarded as a somewhat severe critic, and I naturally anticipated a good deal of criticism, and perhaps severe criticism. Perhaps one point on which I would differ from him is when he said that the good diplomatist nascitur non fit. To my mind, that is only very partially true. The art of diplomacy or the science of diplomacy is derived from long experience. I do not mean to say a certain amount of intelligence is not a necessary component of a good diplomatist, but I do not believe he is born, I believe he is very largely created by the circumstances of his profession.

For that reason I quite agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken that a very great mistake is being made by not renewing nominations for posts held by Ambassadors who have reached the age of sixty. I always intended to leave the Service at sixty, but I have known many Ambassadors in forty years of service abroad, and the men we all looked up to most as the wisest and most tactful, the men who could not make a mistake from their long experience of the temperaments of other countries, were just the men of between sixty and seventy. I will not go into names, but I could give you perhaps an instance, better known perhaps a few years ago than to-day, the instance of Lord Lyons. The whole matter is one of experience and of giving advice when it is inopportune to do something, or, on the other hand, the most opportune way of doing a thing. Only long service, service in many countries, the acquired knowledge of the different temperaments of those countries and also the changing circumstances in which he is living in them, will enable the representative resident there to be the best adviser of his country.

In my long experience of this advice I happen to remember very few instances in which it was not valuable and to the point. The difficulty was that it was not always acted upon at home. We were always to some extent placed in a certain difficulty, especially in that branch of the Service with which the most interesting part of my career was connected, administrative as well as diplomatic, in Africa and Egypt—that sort of country. I do not intend to do so, but I could quote instances which would astonish you of advice given in good time from knowledge acquired on the spot and wholly ignored at home, which led to great difficulties within a very short time and to an enormous expenditure which might otherwise have been saved. For that reason we often found ourselves rather up against the financial side of the administration.

Of course, originally, when I joined the Service, up to the higher posts the services were practically performed gratuitously. When I was Ambassador at Rome and the late war broke out I had five gentlemen working in the Chancellery. My salary as Councillor just sufficed to pay the rent of my house. In regard to the five gentlemen then working at the Chancellery, one of whom had fourteen years' service there, their total salaries all added together amounted to £720 a year. The fourteen years' service man got about £400, two others got £150, and the others, who were attachés, received nothing. We did loyal service under such conditions, knowing that something must inevitably happen unless steps were taken to prevent it. And we were always up against the Treasury. One was assured even by the Secretary of State, who did his best, that it might lead to resignation and upset the Government. Let me assure you that timely expenditure on the advice of the man on the spot might have saved us infinite trouble and enormous expense later on. Those are the points I had it in mind to make. Of course now the whole situation is different. People are paid, I will not say generously, but fairly adequately. It was less important how you selected your men in those days when we trusted the Secretary of State, with his opportunities for advice, not to put in anybody who would be impossible. The other point is that I really feel very strongly that it is a very great mistake to get rid of your most experienced and valuable men by a hard-and-fast rule that they have got to retire at sixty.


My Lords, I ask your indulgence in trespassing upon your time for the first time. It is not done of my own free will; it is done under great pressure from my colleagues, who maintain that by saying a few words I could add possibly to the information which your Lordships' House ought to have before it comes to any decision on this question of the reform of the Foreign Service. I was very glad my noble friend Lord Ponsonby raised the question, especially as it showed me that his zeal for the reform dates back to very early days. After a short service abroad he came home and presented my then chief with a scheme of reform which I had to submit to him. My noble friend described the result as being to "upset" my chief; the word "upset" is a very mild description of what happened to him. In conveying my chief's views to my noble friend at the time, I evidently softened them down to some extent! Very shortly afterwards, my noble friend was caught out in sending a pair of boots intended for France to Persia, and my chief turned to me and said: "That is the fellow who wants to prescribe to us what we are to do!" However, I am glad that the reforming zeal has never deserted my noble friend.

My contribution to-day is really limited to reinforcing the plea which has been put before your Lordships by the noble Lords who have preceded me. The first thing I would urge is that after this war no service will be looked to by the public for efficient work more than our Foreign Service, and therefore I think that it is not premature for His Majesty's Government to take up the question of its improvement. As regards the improvement, I would urge that in the first instance we must realise that the Foreign Service is an entirely different service from the home Civil Service. For years I have pointed out to my colleagues in the Civil Service that our work is entirely different from theirs; it is hardly ever administrative, and perhaps it approximates most closely to the work of the Indian Civil Service. It consists mainly in representing the interests and the views of this country to other countries, of engaging in negotiations, and, by negotiation, in trying to reach the best bargain possible. That, I think, is in the future going to be what the man in the street will expect from the Foreign Service.

The first thing to be done, therefore, is to see that the best recruits are obtained, and the best way of obtaining the best recruits is to provide the best conditions as regards pay, prospects of promotion and retirement that can be afforded, and to have as wide a field as can be secured for the selection of the candidates. It is for that reason that I think that the plan of amalgamating the Consular Service and the Diplomatic Service into one Service can be justified. Having secured these conditions, I think that it will be possible to attract the best available talent; and the best available talent will be required for the rebuilding which must follow the appalling destruction now going on in the world. Once the Secretary of State has the recruits, he should be given the utmost elasticity in dealing with their employment, their promotion, their retirement and their rewards. It is a Service in which individuals have more chance of developing their individuality than in any other that I know of, and the Secretary of State should therefore be given as much freedom as possible in selecting his men. I welcome the promised pension scheme, a reform which is overdue. It will be one of the good things which have come out of this war. The lack of such a scheme has been a stone round the neck of our Service, and the provision of this scheme will give the Secretary of State a chance of making a success of his reforms such as none of his predecessors has ever had.

There is one other point which I should like to make clear. I have noticed of late years that an impression has arisen in this country that diplomacy is an alternative to, or a substitute for, armed force. That is really very sloppy and shallow thinking. It is no such thing. Years ago, when the last Sultan of Turkey was persecuting the Armenians and we got to grips with him about it, our then Ambassador came home and said to me: "People reproach me here because I can do so little to give effect to the intense desire in this country to see the persecution of the Armenians stopped. I wish they would realise that when some foreign Ambassador calls on the Grand Vizier, the Grand Vizier sees behind him an endless line of Army Corps; when I walk in he may think of a vista of 'Dreadnoughts,' which he has never seen. "In that connection, I should like to remind your Lordships that when the Armenian agitation here became very intense, and people clamoured for action, the then Lord Salisbury reminded us that, as we were unable to send "Dreadnoughts" up Mount Ararat, we were somewhat limited in the action which we could take against the Sultan of Turkey.

I hope therefore, that our political leaders will do all that they can to educate public opinion in this country, so as to get rid of the idea that diplomacy is a substitute for, or an alternative to, armed force. It is no such thing. I cannot too strongly endorse what noble Lords who have already spoken have said on the subject of our having occasionally of late years been just bluffing, and that our bluff was called. I do not think that I can add anything more to what has already been far more eloquently said by those who have spoken before me, but I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for having raised this subject.


My Lords, I think that all of us who have been attending to this debate will be in the most full agreement with what was last said by the noble Lord, Lord Tyrrell, as to this subject having been most admirably raised. We have had a debate of quite unusual interest. We are indebted to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for bringing this matter forward at this time. I was glad that he said in the course of his speech that he was not calling upon me or upon any member of the Government to develop further the details of whatever scheme there might be. The time has not come for that, but I shall endeavour to say one or two things which I hope may make the position as already disclosed quite plain.

This debate would be worthy of notice if for no other reason than that we have had two maiden speeches from two most distinguished men who speak with the greatest authority on diplomatic subjects, my noble friend the Earl of Perth and my noble friend Lord Tyrrell. They both take the view—and I think this was the view of other noble Lords who have spoken—that the reforms as outlined are valuable and important; but that is not, as I gather it, the view expressed in the speech of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby He described it, I noticed, as a proposal consisting of trivial matters, and that was one of the grounds on which he raised the question of why such trivial proposals should be put forward now in the middle of a great war. I hope your Lordships will not take the view that these are trivial matters. I trust you will share the view just expressed by my noble friend Lord Tyrrell, who pointed out, as it seemed to me, very convincingly, that when this time of trial and struggle is over the country will certainly require to be satisfied that the Diplomatic Service is one which in every respect is best fitted and arranged to discharge the duties which will never be more important than then.

That is not in the least to say that there is at the back of these reforms any criticism of diplomats. I must say that that suggestion is uncalled for. There was nothing whatever in the Foreign Secretary's speech to suggest it. No instructed person will doubt that our diplomatic information brought to the Foreign Office has been most fully and candidly conveyed. The decisions taken in that regard were not decisions for which the diplomat has to take responsibility. They are decisions for which the Government of the day have to be responsible.

I would prefer, in my few remarks, to turn to the proposals themselves so far as at present outlined. Although, of course, the present system is fairly familiar to those who have served in the Foreign Office or the diplomatic field, possibly your Lordships will not think it a complete waste of time if I state, in a few simple sentences, what the present system is because, after all, you cannot judge of the importance or propriety of any reform unless you know what is the existing system it is proposed to change. The existing system dates from the end of the Great War. Before that, the Diplomatic Service abroad and the Foreign Service here at home were distinct. Usually there was no interchange of personnel between them. The man who entered on his Diplomatic Service did not usually, in the old days, in the course of his career, serve inside the Foreign Office. The man who had joined the service of the Foreign Office did not, save in rare cases, become a diplomatic member. These two bodies, it is true, were the result of the same examination, but every candidate when entering for that examination, and before he was examined, declared which of the two careers it was for which he was standing. That was the system which was altered in 1919.

It was unquestionably an important change by which henceforth the successful candidate belonged to an amalgamated Service which is common to our diplomats abroad and to officials of the administrative grade in the Foreign Office. The two in all respects are not identical. Conditions of service at home, which approximate to those of the home Civil Service, differ considerably from the conditions of service abroad—there the financial question comes in. The object of the 1919 change was to secure that the individual should, in the course of his official life, have experience of both kinds of work. There can be no question that that was a great reform. It is the system which gives the senior official inside the Foreign Office a background which he knows at first hand through having served in some diplomatic post abroad, and at the same time it gives to a distinguished Ambassador, performing his service in some foreign country, an intimate knowledge of what may be called the inside working of the Foreign Office. My noble friend Lord Tyrrell is himself an embodiment of that double experience. Nobody I think disputes that that is right. But although that change was made and has lasted for more than twenty years, up to the present day the British Consular Service in principle has stood apart.

I can say to my noble friend that the examples he gave—eminent examples like that of Sir Ernest Satow—are entirely exceptional. In principle you may say that, although some diplomatic Ministers in the last twenty years have been appointed from the Consular Service, this is quite rare and transfers the other way about from the Diplomatic Service to the Consular Service are almost unknown. There is no free interchange at all. It is a separate institution, a separate Service. The essence of one of the principal proposals which the Foreign Secretary has now outlined is that there shall be a single Foreign Service, including not only diplomats abroad and officials in the Foreign Office at home, but including also the Consular Service, and that there shall be a free interchange, circulation, between all branches of the Service according to the qualities and suitability of individuals.

My noble friend who opened the discussion said, with his usual frankness and courtesy, that this amalagamation of what is now the main Service with the Consular Service did not appeal to him at all. He went on to say that he thought it was important that there should not be rigidity, and I think he proceeded to say that the Foreign Secretary should not be hampered in his choice of persons for a particular post. These are among the very reasons why it is suggested there should be now this greater unity of service, including the Consular body. I think, too, that it is a proposal which possibly will make the diplomats more commercially minded, and will make the Consular representatives more diplomatically minded. It is an attempt to secure, without any rigidity at all, that flexibility in the public service which, in the view of the Foreign Secretary and in the view of Sir Malcolm Robertson and of the Government who have adopted the principle, is much more likely to be effected by including the Consular Service in the single large Foreign Service of the country.

That is one of the main proposals made. Let me refer in a few words to another. There has been a general welcome in the debate by all who have spoken, of the proposal outlined by the Foreign Secretary regarding a man of, perhaps, great original promise and much energy and ingenuity of mind, who may none the less not fulfil early anticipations, may lose his drive, his energy or his originality of outlook, or at any rate may turn out in the light of his general experience to be fit only to hold a post of the second rank, and not good enough to hold the position of diplomatic chief in some important Mission. What are you to do with such a man? This is a problem, of course, which is extremely familiar at the War Office. If I understand the position there rightly, if by a certain age an officer has not attained upon his merits a certain rank, then that officer ceases to belong to that Service and is retired and gets a suitable pension. The question is, should not something of the same sort be done in these amalgamated Foreign Services?

I would ask the House to consider for a moment what happens now. I happen to have myself a very clear memory in regard to the matter, for it became my duty more than once when I was at the Foreign Office to deal with this very problem. Suppose you have a diplomat who has reached what we may call the middle ranks but really is not fit for the highest services. What is the Foreign Secretary to do? The diplomat cannot be, as things are, retired on a pension, except, of course, for ill health. Assuming he is in good health, he cannot be retired on a pension in the middle of what would be a normal career without Parliamentary sanction. It would need an Act of Parliament to change the law. Is it to be supposed that he remains en disponibilité?—a polite expression which really means he receives no official income at all. He is waiting for another appointment which he may or may not get, and then you are faced with a position in which the public interest and the Foreign Secretary's sense of duty may very easily conflict with his feelings of genuine sympathy for a man who may have done good work but who, in the course of the development of his official service, has not displayed this body of very fine qualities necessary to Ambassadorial rank. What are you to do with him?

Well, there is a very strong temptation to provide for such a man by putting him in what is regarded as an unimportant post. My Lords, that is an extremely dangerous resource. It does not follow that the unimportant post of to-day will be an unimportant post next year. It may indeed be that just because the place is lying more in shadow it is all the more important that you should have a really good man to illuminate the shade and inform you of the dangers. I do not wish to refer to places or individuals, but anyone looking over a map can think of places which have suddenly become of very great importance and to which a Foreign Secretary may have been inclined to send some faithful and loyal member of the Service who has always tried to do his best, thinking: "Well, he will not do very much harm there; and that provides for him and gives him a salary." The object of this new proposal is to put an end to that kind of thing. It is to recognise that the Service of this country in the diplomatic field is important everywhere, and that there is no place where you may be content with the second or third best. Therefore you ought to apply to members of the Service who have not exhibited in the latter part of their career the qualities necessary for the highest post some rule more or less in correspondence with their fitness for service from which they can retire on a pension at a convenient opportunity. I think I notice that my noble friend the Earl of Perth was in agreement with that view, and I am sure the experience of many diplomats of the first order must cause them to agree with it.

There is a third matter which has been mentioned in the debate and which is also of very considerable importance. To a large extent it has been introduced by way of a question. It was asked in the course of one of the last speeches made in the debate, what is meant by the broadening of the basis of selection? My noble friend who opened the debate also raised the same point. I do agree most entirely with him that criticism on this subject is not always very well-informed criticism. Still, it is very important to consider whether the present arrangements for the staffing of the Service really do all that can properly be done to help the candidate who may otherwise be handicapped as compared with his competitor for want of finance at the early stages—at the stage of preparation. I think my noble friend suggested that the age might be raised to thirty. It is not for me to say, but my personal view is that that is much too late because there is a great deal to learn before you get into the more important ranks of the Service.

But consider this. For financial reasons comparatively few men at present undertake the necessary training for the examination. There is not, in other words, a very varied or wide list of candidates. That involves, as everybody knows, and must involve, the acquirement of a couple of foreign languages, perhaps more, with a vastly greater degree of accuracy and precision than passes now with some people for the ability to speak French. That cannot be done except by going abroad and working very hard indeed in the appropriate country until its language is really known in all its ramifications. That takes time, and it takes money. There is a further handicap which restricts the field and it is this, that there are so few vacancies. When you meet a young man and he tells you that if he does well at school or at the university he would like to go in for the Diplomatic Service, you know that however clever he is he is taking this risk, that he may not be one of the very few to be chosen, and it is impossible for him to know in advance whether there may not be some other people cleverer and better equipped than himself who will push him below the number that is admitted. That is one of the reasons for bringing the Consular Service into the diplomatic sphere—it tends to increase the number of candidates.

Without going into any details as to how it is to be done, what I believe is in the Foreign Secretary's mind is this, that assistance for preliminary training or assistance, perhaps, in special training after entry has been secured, would help to get over the handicap that some poor, but extremely able people may suffer from to-day. Add to that the amalgamation with the Consular Service and you may expect to have a larger number of annual vacancies and to produce more candidates, and it is to be hoped that these considerations can be worked out into a detailed scheme. I hope that nothing I have said on this head will be understood as enlarging the announcement of the Foreign Secretary. I have had the advantage of talking it over with his advisers, and I feel pretty sure that is the kind of thing that is in his mind, and that part of the plan is, by the means I have indicated, to broaden the basis of selection.

There are other joints with which I will not delay your Lordships at this late hour, but I will just make this observation in conclusion. I was not quite sure, from something which fell from my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, whether he regarded the Diplomatic Service as more important and more difficult than it used to be, or less important and less difficult. It is different of course by the reason which he illustrated—namely, that Lord Stratford de Redcliffe had so many things to decide and that he could not refer home about them. The Foreign Secretary now may get three or four telegrams a day from the same Ambassador on some situation developing in the capital in which he is living, and the extent to which our diplomats abroad may get specific instructions as to what to do, makes the position of course quite different from the situation in which diplomats used to stand. At first sight, one might think that that made the diplomat's task easier. I can only say that for myself I doubt that very much. It appears to me that modern conditions make the work of the diplomat in a foreign capital in some respects more difficult and more responsible than ever. The improvement of communications tends to make it so.

I believe success depends more than ever on the personality of our representative. Just think of the difference that may be made in opinion in America according to the wisdom of our representative there. The personality of the man may impress a whole continent. A speech, or a succession of speeches, will be read by the whole population. Nothing of that sort existed in the old days. Then, again, I think a most important part of the modern diplomat's duties is not only to inform his Government of what he believes to be the state of feeling about this or that, but to answer and to answer wisely, this question: Do you think that if we instruct you to make such-and-such representations to the Power to which you are accredited that will advance the matter in hand, or will it produce greater difficulties? There again I have a very strong view myself that there has never been a time when the possession of judgment and tact and what you may call diagnosis by the diplomat have been so important as they are to-day. Those are the reasons—not any desire to create suspicion or stir up criticism of the Diplomatic Service, which would be quite absurd and most unjust—why the Government think this matter should be tackled now. If it is not tackled now we shall not be ready at the end of the war, and at the end of the war we are going to depend on this great engine of public service, amalgamated as I hope it will be into one unity, for assistance greater than we have ever needed in the whole course of our history. I thank the noble Lord for having raised this question, and I hope that he will think that these proposals are worth some different description than that they are trivial matters.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble and learned friend for the very lucid and full explanation and reply be has given to this debate. I should have to embark on another speech if I were to deal with all the points that have been mentioned, but I should like to say that I find myself in agreement with him in his concluding summary in which he insisted on the comparative urgency of this question, because of the important part which the Diplomatic Service will probably have to play when the war is ended. I do not at all apologise for having raised this question were it only for the series of speeches which your Lordships have heard—speeches which I think have been of unusual interest and carefully reasoned—from noble Lords of high experience. I only regret the unfortunate absence of my noble friend Lord Hardinge, who had intended to say a few words. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.