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Supply — Civil Service Estimates

Volume 203: debated on Friday 29 July 1870

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(4.) £153,919, to complete the sum for Embassies and Missions Abroad.

said, that last year, it would be in the recollection of the Committee, he proposed to reduce the Vote for Diplomatic Services by £10,000, and his Motion was only defeated by the casting vote of the Chairman. On that occasion his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Otway) strongly urged that a reduction to that extent would be detrimental to the public service; but, notwithstanding that opinion, the Foreign Office had managed to reduce the Estimates this year by £12,448, which was, no doubt, to their credit. At the same time, he was compelled to observe that the reduction had not been made in the permanent charges. It was true that the item of salaries of Ambassadors, &c., had been diminished to the extent of £1,410; but, on the other hand, the salaries of second and third Secretaries, &c., had been increased £1,436, so that he had a right to complain that there was no actual decrease in the personal staff under the Foreign Office. The saving had been effected by squeezing down some incidental items, chiefly on account of journeys on the public service, special missions, and outfits, all of which might probably be advanced to their former amount in another year. As the Committee on the Diplomatic Service, upon which he had had the honour of serving, had not yet reported, he felt precluded from proposing any reduction of this Vote; but he did not feel precluded from urging on the Government the expediency of not filling up any vacancy that might occur in the smaller missions, and that no addition should be made in the number of Secretaries and Under Secretaries of Legation; but that, if possible, they should be diminished. His hon. Friend (Mr. Otway) was as well acquainted as he was with the evidence which had been given before the Diplomatic Committee, and must be perfectly aware that the number of the junior members of our Legation was unnecessarily large. As regarded the smaller missions, he (Mr. Rylands) was of opinion that most of those scattered over Europe might be dispensed with. They had been represented as the eyes and ears of the Foreign Office, and that they were the watch-dogs of the Continent. If so, the eyes were blind, the ears were stopped, and the watch-dogs were dumb dogs that could not bark. These missions were regarded as political barometers—we had planted them throughout Europe in order to give us early intimation of a coming storm; but for several years these political barometers had stood at "Set Fair," and remained so to the very moment when the storm suddenly burst over us. They gave not the slightest warning to the Foreign Office of the great event that had recently startled Europe. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had admitted that two hours before the alarming telegram from France was received, he had been told by the Under Secretary at the Foreign Office that there was a perfect lull in Continental politics. Nothing could have shown in a more striking manner the uselessness of these means of obtaining early information from abroad, and which were maintained at so great an expense. He did not wish, however, to imply that if the Foreign Office had obtained earlier information they would have been able to avert the war between France and Prussia. His hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs was under the pleasing delusion that the Foreign Office had for the last four years kept the peace of Europe. His hon. Friend had told him on more than one occasion, in a solemn, important manner, that by the tact, the conciliatory influence, and the exceeding wisdom of the Foreign Office, wars had been prevented that might have jeopardized the highest interest of this country. A year or two ago, there was the question of the refusal of Belgium to sell the Luxembourg Railway to France, which threatened a serious complication that might have led, in the opinion of his hon. Friend, to war, unless the influence of the Foreign Office had prevailed over the Emperor of the French in favour of peace. And no doubt if war had not now been declared, his hon. Friend the Under Secretary would have met any Motion for the reduction of diplomatic expenditure, by claiming credit for the continued preservation of peace. But only the other day M. Rouher let the world into the secret of the Emperor's policy. He said, in addressing the Emperor—"Your Majesty was able to wait, but has occupied the last four years in perfecting the armament and the organization of the country." So long as the Emperor was not ready to go to war, no doubt the Foreign Office might flatter themselves that they had preserved peace; but it was now seen how utterly futile were their endeavours when events were ripe for the impending struggle. And in the midst of the evils and losses of this war, which might possibly be one of the most disastrous on record, it was to be hoped that it might startle the Foreign Office out of their self-complacency, and might teach them how utterly unable they were to act the part of a second Providence in controlling and guiding the destinies of Europe. They were deficient in the first attribute of a Providence—for they could not tell what would happen to-morrow; no, nor what would occur within two hours. In fact, the Foreign Office was frequently the last to obtain intelligence, and during the past few days most important pieces of information had been first received through other channels, and it was fortunate that whilst the Foreign Office had been slumbering there were other and better sources of intelligence. He did not contend that we should have no representatives abroad; but what he said was, that the events now in progress showed that the small German missions were not of any importance, and he hoped that the Government would take into their serious consideration the necessity of reducing these small missions at the earliest possible date.

said, he wished to know whether there was any probability of the five large Commissions abroad coming soon to an end?

said, he was willing to give the Government credit for the fulfilment of its promise in the way of reductions, although that reduction was not very large. He must, however, call attention to the large sum charged for couriers, and he should be glad to know how many couriers had been reduced. He observed a satisfactory reduction in the item of special missions abroad to the amount of £5,000. In China very distressing events had occurred, of which intelligence had been received not from our Minister at Pekin, but through private channels and viâ St. Petersburg—an occurrence not creditable to our Minister at Pekin or consular agents. It was said, however, that our Minister had now sent a tardy telegram on the subject, and he hoped it would be produced.

said, he wished for information in respect to the charge in the Vote for the Registrar?

said, he trusted the Government would not adopt the views of the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands). If the reductions he urged were made it would be difficult to get men of education and position to enter into the Diplomatic Service.

said, he did not think the country desired that gentlemen in the Diplomatic Service should be underpaid. He should be much surprised if the Committee on the Diplomatic Service recommended any decrease in their salaries. There was a reduction of no less than £72,000 in Class V of those Estimates. He, however, never expected a material reduction in the Diplomatic Service.

said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Warrington had not recommended reductions in the salaries of the Diplomatic Service, but in the number of small missions abroad.

said, he gave his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs credit, and he thought the House should do so also, for having so far fulfilled his promise of last year by effecting a reduction of £12,000 in this Vote, and he hoped he would persevere in the same direction.

said, he believed there was no desire to reduce the payment of really effective missions; but he thought such missions as those to Darmstadt, Coburg, and Stuttgart might be dispensed with.

said, he must point out that the expenses of living abroad had increased to such an extent of late years that no one would be wise in entering the Diplomatic Service unless he had a fortune, for it was impossible to live upon the salary that was granted by Parliament. As compared with the other Ambassadors of great Powers, ours were very poorly paid. While the French Ambassador at Turkey received £12,000 a year, the English Ambassador there received only £8,000. It was impossible to reduce the staff at most of the missions, and he must complain of the inadequate number of our attachés in some places. For example, during the recent lamentable events in Greece, Mr. Erskine at Athens was unable to procure from Constantinople a single person to assist him in the discharge of the very difficult and onerous duties which had suddenly devolved upon him.

said, he could not join the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) in anticipating the discussion which he understood was to be held next Monday about those important events which were now occurring in Europe. But he thought the hon. Gentleman was singularly unhappy in his illustration, for if ever there was a time when diplomacy had evinced its usefulness it was during that period which preceded the untoward incident that led to the outbreak of war. But for that untoward incident peace would have been secured; and diplomacy had actually succeeded in averting from Europe for several days the horrors of war. As to the smaller missions of Europe, they had nothing to do with the matter, which was restricted to France and Prussia, in both of which countries there were Ambassadors of the first rank. The small missions to German Courts had, however, been gradually reduced. With respect to the diplomatic profession, the hon. Gentleman had had an opportunity, as a Member of a Select Committee, of testing the opinions of those who were examined, and when the Committee reported, and the evidence was circulated, hon. Members would have an opportunity of judging whether the service deserved the remarks that had been made about it. With respect to the Commissions which had been issued on various matters, such as the settlement of the Turco-Persian frontier, Hudson's Bay Commission, United States Commission, and others, for which charges had been made in the Estimates, he was happy to say, in reply to the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms), that most of their duties had terminated by the settlement of the questions at issue. The expenses of the Commissions were decreasing, and would soon vanish. The couriers had been reduced by two. There had also been a reduction on the expenses of the journeys for the public service of £900. It was expected that the messengers would die out; but, looking at the present state of Europe, he could not say that there would be any reduction in the present number. It was only just to the late Lord Clarendon, to whom the country owed so much, and whose decease was so sincerely deplored, to say that while he wished the service to be maintained with thorough efficiency, he was always ready to avail himself of any opportunity to economize, and the result of his policy was a considerable decrease of diplomatic expenses this year.

said, that the Reports as to the condition of foreign countries which had recently been sent home were creditable to both the industry and the ability of the diplomatic agents who prepared them.

said, he had no desire or intention to cast any reflection on the members of the Diplomatic Service, nor did he suggest any reduction in their salaries. What he advocated was a reduction of those officials who were maintained at small Courts, like those of Wurtemburg and Dresden, where there was little or nothing for them to do. He looked upon the statement that our Ministers at small Courts obtained intelligence which could not be obtained at larger ones as an entire fallacy, and he begged to give Notice of his intention next Session, after the evidence taken before the Diplomatic Service Committee had been published, to call the attention of the House to the whole subject.

said, he wished to ask whether Mr. Wade received the full salary of £6,000 a year, as Ambassador, at Pekin; and whether he had been regularly appointed to that office?

said, he did not think full justice had been done to the exertions of the second Secretary of Legation at Berlin, who in six weeks' uninterrupted work had prepared the information with regard to the tenure of land in Prussia which had been found so valuable in the course of the debates on the Irish Land Bill.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next;

Committee to sit again this day.