MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, he rose to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the Consular Service and Consular Appointments. The subject was of great importance, for it affected a large class of most important public servants. There were about 600 gentlemen employed in the Consular Ser- 551 vice, the amount of public money received by them being about £150,000 a year; in addition to which, they received fees amounting in the aggregate to nearly £30,000 a year. They performed not only most important commercial, but also political services, in every part of the world in which there was British commerce. Their office had for several years engaged the serious attention of Parliament, and he believed it was the intention of her Majesty's late Government to have proposed in the present Session an inquiry similar to that for which he now asked. A mass of most valuable evidence on this subject had been collected by the late Government, and the present Government deemed it their duty to propose at once the appointment of a Committee, in order that that evidence might be submitted to the House, for the purpose of being thoroughly sifted, and that every possible additional information on the subject might be laid before the Committee. The Government did not intend to lay before that Committee any plan of their own; their only object being to elicit, to the utmost of their power, the truth, by the appointment of a number of gentlemen from both sides of the House, without reference to party, to consider the whole subject, with the view of a measure being submitted to the House at the earliest moment possible. One of the most important questions to which the Committee would have to direct their attention was the system under which the consular service was now carried on. The House was well aware that that system was entirely different from that pursued by the Continental States, and especially by France. No particular training was at present required as a qualification for our consular service. He admitted that many of our consuls had performed most ably their commercial and political duties; but it could not be denied that in many instances our consuls had discharged their functions very unsatisfactorily. In some instances the duties of our consuls were commercial and political, and in others also of a judicial character. Akin to this was the question of promotion, and whether it might not be desirable to hold out to those who were engaged in the consular service a hope, if they satisfactorily discharged their duty in a subordinate capacity, that they should find their reward in promotion. Another important point for the Committee to inquire into was with respect to the present mode of payment. 552 In some cases the amount of salary appeared to be comparatively small, but a large sum might be obtained, perhaps, in the shape of fees. One case had been pointed out, in which the salary was only £200 a year, while the fees amounted to upwards of £1,800. There were other instances, of an opposite character, in. which the salary was very large and the fees were very small. It was important to inquire, therefore, whether a more uniform and settled system might not be adopted. Under the present plan, the imputation was often thrown out, that consuls, by a multiplication of forms, obtained a multiplication of fees. That imputation might not be true, but it was not one which ought to rest on so important a service. Another question was as to how far consular agents should be permitted to engage in trade. There were other points also, of great importance, which might well be inquired into by the Committee, but those which he had mentioned would suffice to show that the subject was an extensive one which they would be called upon to investigate. The present Government had lost no time in directing their attention to the matter. Their object was to obtain the best information, at the earliest possible moment; and, when that information should be obtained, it would be their wish to deal with the subject in the most liberal and comprehensive spirit. He moved that a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the Consular Service and Consular Appointments.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said that the late Government had been almost pledged if they remained in office to deal with this subject in the present Session, and with that view a great number of returns affording information had been moved for. He would not state his opinion upon the various points to which the hon. and learned Member had just adverted; but there could be no doubt that they were of great importance. The consular service was of immense advantage to the country, and, in some cases, of absolute necessity; but a great deal of doubt had arisen in the public mind with respect to the details of the system. It was quite proper, therefore, that a sifting inquiry should take place, and that the Committee should consider on what terms the service should in future be carried on. He was glad that the hon. Member had thus early fulfilled the pledge which the late Government had given.
§ MR. WISE
said he wished to express his thanks to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs for having so speedily taken up this question and brought it into a shape which would lead to its immediate consideration. He hoped the inquiry would be a real one, however, and that it would lead to justice being done both to the country and the consuls. Before the Committee no doubt there would be a full opportunity of looking into the whole question of patronage, promotion, and the future regulation of the service.
complained that there was not a single Irish Member on either this Committee or on another which was to be moved that night.
§ MR. J. C. EWART
said that, as the representative of an important commercial community, he also wished to convey his thanks to the hon. Member for having brought forward the subject. It called loudly for inquiry, and he was sure that the result of the Committee would be of great service to the country.
said, that having travelled in various parts of the world, he could bear testimony to the absolute necessity that there was for an inquiry into the state of the consular service. Many years ago public attention had been directed to it by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech that was replete with information, but nothing had been done from that time to the present. Lord Carlisle stated in his Diary in Greek Waters that the ladies of the Levant accounted for the eccentricities of English consuls by the theory that as soon as a man was nominated a British consul he went mad. He would not go quite so far as that; but he was sure that he could state facts to the House of the doings of British consuls to which the House could scarcely give credence. Great credit was due to the Government for having evinced an early desire to grapple with the question.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Select Committee appointed "to inquire into the Consular Service and Consular Appointments."