168 MINUTES OF EVIDENCE TAKEN BEFORE THE
Viscount Stratford de JRedcliffe.
i 3 May 1861.
I have always understood that private letters of this kind are as correspondence between individuals, although relating to public subjects.
When you have headed a Despatch " Private and Confidential," have you thereby intended that that Despatch should not go beyond the Secretary of State himself?—Letters
marked "Private and Confidential," written in regular form on large paper, are usually considered as part of the public correspondence, subject, as to publicity, to the discretion of the Secretary of State.
You draw then a clear distinction between Despatches which you must con¬ sider of a reserved character, and the private correspondence between individuals ?
—Decidedly; it was to the latter class of private correspondence that my remarks were addressed ; but I submit that the public in fairness has nothing to do with them.
The Foreign Office might be moved by Parliament to put an end to such correspondence ; but that is a different point; as long as there is no intervention of the kind, I consider the correspondence in question as being between two individuals, and, in honour, not to be communicated beyond the writer's intention.
Hope] I presume the necessity for private correspondence arises partly from the liability to the production of everything that is official ?—Yes.
The Secretary of State must have reasons for wishing the representatives abroad to understand exactly the views of the Government, and the motives of their intended action, which would not, perhaps, be fully stated in a public Despatch; and the private correspondence enables an agent to put himself more entirely in the position of his Government.
Has it been your experience with regard to the introduction of much more rapid locomotion, and the use of telegrams, that an increase or a diminution, or that no difference has been made in the responsibility and the difficulties of the position of an ambassador ?—That,
I conceive, is as the case may he.
Yoq are aware that arguments have been used of this kind that, with the present facilities of communication, the necessity for diplomatic servants of a high character is diminished; do you agree with that?—By
no means; telegraphic communications, whatever may happen hereafter, have not yet operated to the exclusion of Despatches.
They are subject, to all appearance, by their very nature, to the risk of conveying erroneous information, or premature instructions, equally involving much responsibility, and sometimes requiring the exercise of a superior judgment.
They are, moreover, liable to frequent mistakes in the transmission.
Time and practice will probably bring them to greater perfection.
Meanwhile, the invention of the electric telegraph does not appear to have superseded the use¬ fulness either of Despatches or of the Ministers who write them.
I take it that in former times it was usual that the Despatch was written in such terms in the Foreign Office as left very little discretion to the ambassador in his mode of communication, for the very terms were used which he ought to -use himself in communicating with foreign Governments, whereas if the instruc¬ tions are received only by telegram a great deal must be left to the discretion and the tact of the diplomatic agent r—No doubt.
In that way would not telegrams rather require superior agents to inter¬ pret and deal with them than inferior ones ?—When
an instruction for imme¬ diate execution is transmitted to a distant representative abroad, it is more likely, I should think, to be couched in peremptory terms than when prepared in the form of a Despatch.
A greater responsibility must, therefore, attach to any departure, however necessary, from the strict apparent intention, and an agent of inferior weight and position might well shrink from the personal hazard of incurring it.
The Honourable William Stuart, called in ; and Examined.
Chairman] WILL you state at what date you entered the Diplomatic Service?—I
was appointed attach6 at Paris by Lord Aberdeen in the year 1845, and I was appointed second paid attache by Lord Palmerston, I think, in Decem¬ ber 1851, and first paid attache by Lord Clarendon in September 1853; then I was appointed secretary of legation at Rio Janeiro in February 1858, and I had charge of the mission there from June in that year until December 1859.