HC Deb 24 April 1856 vol 141 cc1401-44

in rising to propose an Address to Her Majesty upon the subject of admissions to the civil service, said that the question was one of such great importance that he felt that no apology was due upon his part for bringing it under the consideration of the House. He thought that the Report of the Civil Service Commissioners was so full of interest that it was only right to call upon that House to devote some portion of its time to the consideration of it. In the first place, it was to him a pleasant task to pay his humble tribute of praise to the Commissioners for their invaluable exertions. When all the difficulties which they had to encounter were considered, he believed that most Gentlemen in that House would join with him in paying a just tribute to the zeal and ability—he might say the courage—which they had displayed in the discharge of their duty; for if they reflected on the work they had had to do, and on the manner in which it had been performed—how they had had to inaugurate a new system—how they had had to encounter the disappointment of rejected candidates, and the anger of their patrons—they must see that their task was one of no ordinary difficulty. The Commissioners had done their work well. Most persons had heard rumours of the ridiculous strictness with which their examinations had been conducted, and the unreasonably high standard on which they had insisted; but a perusal of their Report would be sufficient to dissipate any belief in the truth of such allegations—for, while the Commissioners had refused to yield to any pressure from without, if they had erred at all, it had been on the side rather of leniency than of strictness. The House would find that out of the 1,078 candidates whom they had before them, no fewer than 309 had been rejected on account of the gross ignorance they had displayed with regard to the commonest elements of knowledge. That fact, while it showed the true character of their examinations, was a sufficient proof of the truth and justice of those allegations which had been brought against the old system. The House would therefore be justified in concluding that under the old system those persons—persons who spelt "contumelies" "contumanies," and "fingers" "fingures," who inserted only one n in "government" and two t' s in "guilty" would have been admitted into the public service. Regarding, therefore, the allegations against the old system as proved, he would confine himself to the question of how the improvement which had been already introduced might be extended and made more perfect. He found that in the Customs, of 106 candidates examined, forty-two were rejected on account of the grossest ignorance in spelling. In the Admiralty, of fifty-four candidates examined, nineteen were sent back for the same reason. The House should bear in mind that these were nominees to particular offices. He had before expressed his opinion that the only way to effectually remedy these evils was to introduce the system of open competition, and he was strengthened in that opinion by a perusal of the Report of the Commissioners. It was their duty to endeavour to obtain for employment in the civil service the fittest persons that could be found. It was too much the habit to assume that incapacity should be tolerated in the public service which would not, for a moment be endured by any private individual. He thought they ought to take the exactly opposite course. He could conceive many cases in which private individuals or firms, from far higher and more imperative motives than those of self-interest, would be constrained to retain in their service persons who were not the fittest they could find; and to say that a private person was never to employ any but the fittest person would be to lay down a principle of unwarrantable selfishness; but in the civil service the selfishness lay quite in the opposite direction—the selfishness would be in sacrificing the public interests to a feeling of indolence, to a desire to avoid opposition, or to a wish to serve a friend, or to satisfy an importunate suitor. It appeared that out of 903 nominee candidates to particular offices 250 had been rejected by the Commissioners altogether. Between one-third and one-fourth of all the nominees had been sent back because they were unacquainted with the simplest rudiments of knowledge, and he found that, with regard to about one-half of those to whom certificates were granted, the Commissioners were unable to assert that they possessed more than the simple rudimentary knowledge to which he referred. What was the cause? Was it that the education of the middle classes was deficient? On that point the Commissioners said:— We believe, however, that there exists no want of sufficiently well educated persons to supply the vacancies in these offices; and that the frequent occurrence in candidates of deficiency in the simplest elements of knowledge arises from the fact that many of the inferior appointments are made, without personal knowledge of the fitness of the party, on the recommendation of some other person, who is desirous, not of supplying the public with a useful officer, but of making a competent provision for a friend. He believed the Commissioners were perfectly right in that opinion, and that the cause of the deficiency was not to be found in the defective education of the middle classes, but in the bad mode by which candidates were selected, and it was in order to get rid of that fruitful source of evil that he wished to see the system of open competition adopted for admission to the civil service. He wished to see that system adopted, because it would enlarge the field of choice. It would enable every person who, without Parliamentary or personal interest, might wish to enter the public service, to make his merits known to those who had the right of appointment; and by following it, they would be in a position, gradually and naturally, without laying down absolutely any very high standard of qualification, to raise the standard of examination as high as circumstances would admit. On the subject of open competition, he would read to the House the opinion of a right hon. Gentleman whose views would be received with respect, at least, by the Treasury Bench. In a letter written by Mr. Herman Merivale, by the direction of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, there occurred the following passage:— It is Mr. Labouchere's opinion that, whatever may be the value of an examination by way of test, if conducted by able and experienced hands, for eliciting proof of qualities such as these, yet a far greater and more effective security will be afforded by examinations conducted to a certain extent on the competitive principle. The Commissioners themselves stated that they did not consider it within their province to discuss the question, but it was clear that they were in favour of competition. They said:— We do not think it within our province to discuss the expediency of adopting the principle of open competition as contradistinguished from examination; but we must remark that, both in the competitive examination for clerkships in our own and in other offices those who have succeeded in obtaining the appointments have appeared to us to possess considerably higher attainments than those who have come in upon simple nomination; and we may add, that we cannot doubt that if it be adopted as a usual course to nominate several candidates to compete for each vacancy the expectation of this ordeal will act most beneficially on the education and industry of those young persons who are looking forward to public employment. No existing system seemed to be so good as that of the Colonial Office; but it was clear, from the Commissioners' Report, that this plan—the plan of partial competition—did not go far enough, and that, if they wished to get rid of the evils now complained of, it would be necessary to relieve the Government from the pressure under which they were now obliged to make appointments on other grounds than that of merit. It was sometimes urged, in favour of the system of nomination, that a control was thereby exercised over the moral qualifications of the persons appointed which could not otherwise be obtained. That was the theory, but was it always the fact? Was any such adequate control usually exercised? What inquiries did the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Hayter) generally make into the moral qualifications of candidates for appointments? But, assuming that a control of that kind was at present exercised, he would contend that it might be exercised in an equal degree under the system of competition. The system at present pursued in this respect was of a very anomalous character, and was very unfair to the Commissioners; they maintained the system of nomination on the ground of the control it was supposed to give them over the moral character of those whom they appointed, and yet they threw upon the Commissioners the burden of inquiring into that very matter, so that no argument could be drawn on that ground in favour of the system of nomination. He asked the House, by this Motion, to give an opinion only upon the fundamental principle of the establishment of a free and open system of competition. It was not in the power of a private Member to enter into details upon such a subject; but he must observe that he thought it would be absolutely essential to the success of any such system of open competition that the partial division which had been made between situations of a merely mechanical character and those which required more intellectual ability should be strictly enforced. It had been sometimes said that private firms did not adopt any system of competition in their appointments, and yet that they were served well. A sufficient answer to this argument was, that private firms were bound to make good appointments, under penalties, in case of failure, very different from those which awaited Ministers of the Crown, and that they were not subject to the importunities of Members of Parliament and Secretaries of the Treasury. But he asserted that private firms would be willing to adopt a system of competition if it could be made available for them. The Society of Arts had recently promulgated a scheme for establishing competitive examinations, and giving certificates to the successful candidates. The Society had sent round a circular to the leading commercial and manufacturing firms in the country, with a request for information whether they would be disposed, as far as possible, to pay respect to the certificates of the examiners? He held in his hand a list of the firms who had already signed the declaration in the affirmative. It contained the names of some of the most eminent commercial and manufacturing establishments in the country, including the Great Northern Railway Company, the London and Brighton Railway Company, the South Eastern Railway Company; Mr. Akroyd, of Halifax; Mr. Titus Salt, of Bradford; the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Crossley); Sir Elkanah Armitage, of Manchester; Messrs. Clowes; Messrs. Longman; Mr. Brunel; Sir William Cubitt; Mr. Fairbairn, of Manchester; Messrs. Fox, Henderson and Co.; Sir Samuel Morton Peto; Messrs. Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton, and many others. This scheme was said to be new and unexampled, but the circumstances of the present time were new and unexampled, and in the two instances in which it had been adopted by the Government—namely, the East India Company and the Ordnance Department—it had been found to work well. It might be said that the civil service did not hold out such prizes as the East India Company's service to attract really able men. But that argument omitted to take into account one very important element—the certainty of Government employment—that certainty was so great an object to many persons that he believed the Government would have no difficulty in obtaining for the civil service persons as able as any to be found in any profession or calling whatever. He would not allude to all the indirect advantages of the system of competition, but he could not refrain from pointing out the important bearing it would have on the general question of education. He would call upon that large majority of hon. Members who decided the other night that the Legislature could not, at least for the present, take any further step for the purpose of advancing the education of the people. That decision they must look upon, for the time, at all events, as final, and he was, therefore, most anxious to press upon the House the important collateral bearing a system of open competition would have on public education—it would open a new field of employment; it would give a great impulse to schools and colleges; it would open the way to public emoluments and honours to every class, without distinction—he would therefore call upon that large majority who had disposed so summarily of the question of education to weigh well this part of the case. They were bound, as they had refused direct means, to make use of every indirect means in their power for promoting education. He was anxious to obtain the sanction of the House to the system of competition with reference to admissions to the civil service, because he believed such a system would materially improve and strengthen the machinery of Government. Although neither that nor any other improvement of the machinery of Government could ensure the presence of wise and able men at the head of affairs, yet, in a Government like that of this country, in which the political chiefs of departments were constantly changing, while the subordinate heads of departments, holding permanent offices, necessarily exercised great influence, it was most important to secure the services of men of ability and integrity, and this could never be effected with certainty if appointments were made for political reasons, or any other consideration than that of the fitness of the persons appointed. He also desired a change in the present system of civil service appointments, because it seemed to him to place the Members of that House in a false position with respect to their constituents, and to place the Government in a false position with regard to that House. He thought the existing system most injurious to the public service. Members of Parliament, in recommending persons for public employment, did not look to the fitness of their nominees, but to the interest and support which they might secure for themselves at the next election; and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Hayter) was disposed to regard with favour the recommendations of those hon. Gentlemen whose votes he expected to gain on the next division. The candidate most likely to succeed was not, therefore, the hardworking and intelligent young man, but the man whose father was an old Reformer or a stanch friend of the Church. The best men who could be obtained ought to be engaged in the public service; but the present system frequently led to the employment of persons who were destitute of the necessary qualifications. He thought it was an object of the greatest importance to raise the relations between Members and their constituents, which ought to rest on mutual confidence—confidence on the part of constituents in the wisdom, honesty, and integrity of their representatives, and confidence on the part of representatives that the best mode of securing the respect and esteem of their constituents was to pursue such a course as they deemed most conducive to the public advantage; but the present system of patronage was calculated to degrade that relation—it tended to reduce the Members to mere delegates and distributors of patronage instead of leaving them at freedom to give their votes as seemed best for the interest of the country. It seemed to him that the best mode of placing it on a proper footing was to alter the present system of appointments in the civil service. They would thus relieve Members of Parliament from odious applications, and the Government from pressure which it was very often difficult to resist, while they would encourage the extension of education throughout the country, and would secure the employment of able, intelligent, and competent men in the public departments.


in seconding the Motion, said, he must beg to express his thanks to the noble Lord for having given the House an opportunity of discussing this very important question calmly and quietly; for its merits had suffered from its having been sometimes discussed in a spirit of prejudice on the one side and of too sanguine admiration on the other. He was satisfied that the principle of open competition had not been fairly and dispassionately considered by many of those by whom it was opposed, and who fancied that its advocates wished to accomplish objects that had never occurred to their minds. He had been concerned in the preparation of the Report which two or three years ago recommended the adoption of this principle, and in which, with the view of providing fit and proper persons for the public service, it was stated— The general principle which we advocate is, that the public service should be carried on by the admission into its lower ranks of a carefully selected body of young men, who should be employed from the first upon work suited to their capacities and education, and should be made constantly to feel that their promotion and future prospects depend entirely upon the industry and ability with which they discharge their duties—that with average abilities and reasonable application they may look forward confidently to a certain provision for their lives—that with superior powers they may rationally hope to attain to the highest prizes in the service; while, if they prove decidedly incompetent or incurably indolent, they must expect to be removed from it. That principle was borne out by the whole Report, which recommended that the best men should be obtained, and that the most should be made of their services. The Commissioners were of opinion that the system of open competition would be the most likely to secure the employment of the best men; and they accordingly recommended its adoption as one part of the reforms required in the civil service, but it was a mistake to look upon it as the whole, or even as the main portion of what they wished to accomplish. The public, however, overlooking other parts of the Report, had run away with the idea that its proposal simply was, that men for the public service should be selected from the great mass of the population, and should be persons who could pass the best examinations in modern or ancient languages, in mathematics, in the physical sciences, and in history, without regard to moral character and qualifications. Now he thought the first qualifications to be required for public appointments in the civil service were good character and adaptability for the duty, and that the attainments of the candidates were of secondary consideration. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) advocated the principle of open competition because it necessarily included a very careful and searching inquiry into the characters of the persons who received appointments. Under the present system of patronage such inquiry was scarcely possible, because it was almost an insult to a gentleman who nominated a candidate to institute a minute investigation into the character of his nominee. It was true that under the existing system testimonials to the character of nominees were required; but those testimonials were given by persons who had a certain amount of interest in the nominees, while, under the system of open competition, the testimonials would be in a prescribed form, and would be demanded from persons who had no special interest in the candidates. This was no peculiar idea of his own. He would refer to the authority of Lord Monteagle, who had pointed out in his letter to the Civil Service Commissioners, the kind of testimonials which would afford the best test as to the moral qualifications of the probationers; and he (Sir S. Northcote) thought that inquiries conducted upon the principle pointed out by that noble Lord would in almost every case enable them to ascertain whether young men who came forward to compete were persons of fit and proper character. But it was said that we should lose the safeguard of personal responsibility. He would like hon. Gentlemen to consider what they meant by responsibility. He admitted that the responsibility of permanent officers might be a most valuable kind of responsibility, because there would be a strong inducement to heads of departments to look carefully into the fitness of young men appointed to situations under them, and to ascertain whether they were qualified from the beginning to perform the duties which, up to the end of their career, they would be called upon to discharge. But when the appointments were really vested, not in the permanent heads of departments, but in the political chiefs, who were constantly changing, that responsibility fell away almost to a cipher. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Labouchere), in a document printed in the Report of the Commissioners, pointed out that in consequence of clerks on their first appointment being employed in duties which were merely mechanical, a considerable time might elapse before the higher qualities required in the advanced stages in the Colonial Office were put to the test. The effect of that upon the responsibility of the heads of departments was very great. When a clerk was wanted in any department the chief looked out for a young man competent to undertake the duties required to be fulfilled at the bottom of the office; but it was not necessary that he should inquire whether the young man would be qualified in a few years to take a senior clerkship. He did not say that in no case were such inquiries made; but the pressure of responsibility was not heavy, and he doubted whether such investigations were the rule. But here the question arose, was the examination to be pitched so high as to include the later part of the service, or sufficient only for the earlier part? If it included the later part, it appeared unreasonable that young men who were asked to perform duties which were merely mechanical should be required to pass a high-class examination; whereas, if the examination were made low, the public offices would be filled with, persons who would ultimately prove unfit for the higher duties which they would be required to perform. The natural remedy for this state of things seemed to be open competition. He said open, and not limited competition, because he thought there were great disadvantages in the latter system. Most of the objections which applied to open competition applied with equal force to limited competition, which, however, had defects of its own which were not to be found in the other system. Limited competition was an artificial system, and imposed upon the heads of departments the great trouble of seeking out a number of young men to compete for a particular appointment. Nothing could be more imprudent than to require the chief of an office to look out for nine or ten men for every appointment, knowing that eight or nine of them could not be elected. He believed that after a certain time the system of limited competition must break down. An individual might as well try to supply London with food. He would find that his system was an artificial one, and incapable of enabling him to do that which at present was easily accomplished by the voluntary action of the principle of open and unlimited competition. The system of limited competition proposed to leave the head of the office subject to the necessity of investigating the characters of those whom he was to nominate, and to increase his labour by increasing the number to be selected, but to relieve him of the duty of judging of their attainments. It was much easier to judge of attainments than of character—why then take away the easier duty and leave the more difficult one? He thought that under a system of limited competition great deficiencies were likely to arise. It was just as much a favour to place a young man's name on the list of candidates as it had been to give him a direct appointment, and those young men who did not apply for office under the old system were not likely to apply for it under the new, so that the former deficiencies were just as great as ever. Now a word on another point. It was erroneous to suppose that it had over been intended to apply open competition to promotions within the civil service. The object of the supporters of that system was to induce the entry of the best and fittest class of young men into the lower grades of the service; but after they had once been admitted their qualifications for a higher post were subject to a much better and higher test than any mere literary examination. They could not possibly interfere with promotion; all they could do was to secure that the appointments in the first instance were made on the best principle—that of open examination; subsequently, if proper attention were paid to the working of an office, the chief would know who were the fittest men to promote; and he would promote them. The system of open competition once introduced, he felt confident that the other reforms required in the civil service would follow as a matter of course, and among the rest, the separation of mechanical from intellectual labours. He had heard it said that a great many valuable men would not pass an examination; nay, some had gone the length of asserting that the Duke of Wellington would not have passed any competitive examination. He did not believe that. If the Duke, in his earlier days, had been called upon to apply himself to the attainment of such qualifications as might be necessary for appointments then within his reach, he would, without doubt, have succeeded. But that was the fallacy. It was supposed that all those examinations must necessarily be of a particular kind, which was suited for the atmosphere of a school or college, but was not suited for public life. But the truth was that they ought to be conducted in such a manner as to ascertain whether a man had the "stuff" in him—not to show how much a man had had crammed into him, but how much solid good material there was within him. He was quite sure that an examination so conducted would never exclude men of the right stamp, but that, on the contrary, it would promote their admission. He was persuaded that when we considered the nature of English education and how it bore upon practical life, we need have no fear upon that head. He had lately seen a book written by Count Montalembert, in which that distinguished foreigner drew a distinction between French and English education. The Count said, in effect:—"In France, in your private schools, you have the close watchfulness of your tutor over every step which the boy takes, and then he is turned out to the University without any control whatever; he is never educated in self-government. Whereas in England, taking the freedom of the public schools and the restricted freedom of the University, your young men are not only made scholars but citizens of a free State, prepared for the great duty of self-government; the University trains, not scholars, but men." He (Sir S. Northcote) felt certain that if the examinations were conducted in the manner he had indicated, we should have not merely pedants, but good, sound, useful, and able men inducted into the civil service.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to thank Her Majesty for having caused to be laid before this House the Report of the Civil Service Commissioners; to state humbly to Her Majesty, that this House has observed, with great satisfaction, the zeal and prudence with which the Commissioners have proceeded in applying a remedy to evils of a serious character, the previous existence of which has now been placed beyond dispute; and also the degree of progress that has been made, with the sanction of the heads of various Departments of the State, towards the establishment of a system of competition among candidates for admission to the Civil Service; to assure Her Majesty of the steady support of this House in the prosecution of the salutary measures which She has been graciously pleased to adopt; and humbly to make known to Her Majesty, that if She shall think fit further to extend them, and to make trial in the Civil Service of the method of open competition as a condition of entrance, this House will cheerfully provide for any charges which the adoption of that system may entail.


Sir, the noble Lord, in the speech, so full of moderation and good taste, with which he has brought forward this Motion, said that those who advocate the measure which he recommends have been charged with an intention of endangering the constitution and subverting the liberties of the country. I certainly, in any observations which I may have formerly made on this subject, have never made such a charge, and I certainly do not intend to make any such imputation on the present occasion. My noble Friend has argued against the system of nomination upon the ground that it is unconstitutional, and detrimental in respect to the working of our representative system of government; and he has shown the disadvantage which a system of nomination conducted simply on principles of patronage is calculated to produce in respect to the purity of our electoral system. I do not object to the principle of open competition upon the ground of its incompatibility with the system of political influence; nor will I throw any doubt upon the doctrine which my noble Friend enforces, upon the ground that it will diminish the patronage at the disposal of the Crown. I wish to argue the question simply upon the ground of the efficiency of the public service—whether the principle my noble Friend seeks to introduce will or will not render the civil service of the Crown more efficient than it has been heretofore—that is the issue which I wish to raise. A Motion identical in its tendency with the present, though different in expression, was submitted to the House last Session by the hon. and learned Member for the county of Cork (Mr. V. Scully). It underwent a full debate, and the Motion was in the end rejected. It was made not very long after the Order in Council appointing the Civil Service Commission had been issued, and the House appeared reluctant to disturb that measure before it had received a fair trial, and before they could be able to judge of its results. That system has now been in force something less than a year. The Order in Council is dated them 21st May, 1855; and of course a little delay occurred before it could be carried into full effect. The Civil Service Commissioners have made their Report, which is on the table of the House, and in which they have with great perspicuity and with much fulness detailed the steps which they have taken in execution of the important trust confided to them. I am sure that those who have read that Report will agree with me in thinking that the Civil Service Commissioners have discharged their difficult duties with great discretion and in a highly judicious and efficient manner, and that it is impossible that the choice of the Crown could have fallen on men better calculated to perform those duties in a satisfactory manner. It is unnecessary for me to recapitulate the results of their Report beyond stating that the effect of it has been to subject all candidates for admission into the public service to an examination for the purpose of testing their qualifications. In every case the candidate has been subjected to such an examination, and in some instances there has been a competition among several persons nominated for one vacancy by the head of a department. According to the latest information I have received on the subject the number of persons nominated, who had been examined, up to the 21st of April, was, in London, 874; and in the provinces, 542; together, 1,416. Of that number certificates were granted to 868 candidates, and refused to 463. The House must, therefore, see that the examination is a real and efficient one, and that it serves to winnow and separate from the mass a considerable number of incompetent candidates. It must be observed, however, that this separation of fit and unfit candidates does not date exclusively from the appointment of the Civil Service Commissioners, and you are not to assume that those 463 rejected candidates would have been admitted into the service if the Civil Service Commissioners had not been appointed. Before the appointment of that Commission there were in many of the departments examinations, the object of which was to test the qualifications of the candidates. It may be assumed, therefore, that even if the Civil Service Commission had not been in existence, a considerable number of unfit candidates would have been rejected. The system has now, however, been made uniform; it is applied in all cases, and it is conducted in a more systematic manner than before, and will doubtless be productive of increased advantages. My noble Friend has referred to the subject of education in connection with civil service examinations, and he states that the working of the system is viewed with interest by the friends of popular education, and that it is the duty of the Government, if they are unable by other means to promote the spread of education, to use this method for giving an impulse to it. My noble Friend added that great expectations are entertained by those who wished to diffuse education among the people, from the system of open competition. With the permission of the House I will read some remarks applicable to this portion of the subject, which have been made by the Rev. Richard Dawes, the Dean of Hereford, who is one of the most enlightened friends of education in this country, and who has been actively engaged in its promotion. He has published an edition of the Report of the Commissioners in a cheap form for general circulation, and he has prefixed to it some remarks of his own, in which he gives an opinion of the working of the existing system. He says:— The temperate and considerate spirit in which this Report is drawn up, and the sound judgment shown in all matters upon which it treats, add greatly to its value. No one who examines it carefully—whether as regards the standard of acquirement required in the different public offices—the examination, and the way in which it has been conducted—the grounds of rejection where candidates have failed—or of honorary additions to their certificates, where they have successfully passed a voluntary examination—can fail to be convinced of the great national importance of this mode of testing the qualifications of those who are candidates for situations in the various departments of the civil service. It is a most fortunate circumstance to the cause of education, that so important an experiment should have fallen into the judicious hands it has done; and one cannot but read with pleasure in the Report, that the Government have given to the Commissioners a cordial support, in endeavouring to overcome the various difficulties they had to encounter. The Order in Council establishing the future mode of administering the civil patronage of the Crown is a marked event in the history of the Government under which it has taken place, and forms a step in social progress which does honour, both to those who originated it and to those who have worked it out. Now, I wish to point out to the attention of the House that this testimony of an eminent and impartial witness applies not to the system of open competition, but to the existing system of examination for appointments in the civil service, and I think that this testimony and also the evidence contained in the Report of the Commissioners itself are sufficient proof of the advantages of that system without any further remarks from me. The system which was established last year has been worked with the most perfect uprightness and well deserves the support of this House, and I think there is every reason to induce this House to give it a further trial, instead of consenting to cut short its operation by the introduction of a perfectly new system before one short year of its existence has passed over. The principle which my noble Friend seeks to introduce is that of open competition—that is to say, he would allow any person, without any nomination or recommendation, to come forward and offer himself for an office in the civil service. Now, with regard to that principle, I would remark that the system which is at present established does not exclude that competition, but admits it, subject to certain limitations and restrictions. The present system provides that where a number of persons are selected upon the responsibility of the head of a department, who is responsible for the character and propriety of each individual applicant, then it rests with the Civil Service Commissioners to determine by examination who are the best qualified for appointments. If the House will refer to the Report of the Commissioners, they will see that there are fifteen departments in which examinations have been held. The number of situations competed for has been fifty-eight, and out of 247 persons nominated 175 have been examined. Since this Report has been printed, I understand from the Commissioners themselves that other examinations have taken place, and that others are about to take place; so that the House will see that the Order in Council as at present worked is consistent with the principle of competition to a considerable extent, while at the same time it interposes a safeguard which is necessary for the protection and security of the public service. Now, if you remove all limit to the competition for appointments, as my noble Friend proposes, you will relieve the Members of the Government from any responsibility with regard to the appointments made in the respective departments of which they are at the head, and would throw the responsibility, so far as responsibility existed, upon the Civil Service Commissioners. Their choice would be determined by literary merit; they would report to the heads of departments the names of those candidates who, in an open examination, had obtained the greatest number of marks, who would be compelled to appoint them to the offices for which they had competed. The plan, therefore, of my noble Friend, if adopted, would get rid of the important security which now exists of the individual responsibility of the head of each department with regard to the character of the persons whom they may nominate as candidates. The Civil Service Commissioners in their Report make a remark upon that very subject, in which I entirely concur. That remark is— We do not think it within our province to discuss the expediency of adopting the principle of open competition as contra-distinguished from examination; but we must remark that, both in the competitive examination for clerkships in our own and in other offices, those who have succeeded in obtaining the appointments have appeared to us to possess considerably higher attainments than those who have come in upon simple nomination; and we may add that we cannot doubt that, if it be adopted as a usual course to nominate several candidates to compete for each vacancy, the expectation of this ordeal will act most beneficially on the education and industry of those young persons who are looking forward to public employment. I have said that I entirely concur with that remark; so my noble Friend will perceive that I am inclined to go a considerable way with him as regards this question. But there is this difference between us, that the system which he proposes would give up that security which I conceive to be of the greatest advantage to the public service—I mean the individual responsibility of the heads of the various departments. There is another point, too, which ought not to be overlooked in connection with the subject of open examinations. If an examination is instituted simply to arrive at the qualification of a single individual it can be held anywhere—in Scotland, in Ireland, or in the remotest part of the kingdom; but if appointments to office are to be thrown entirely open to competitive examination, all the candidates must be brought together to be examined simultaneously in the same place, and for purposes of convenience that spot would of necessity be London. Now, it follows that a great advantage would naturally be given to those persons who are resident in or near London, because it would be necessary for a candidate coming from a remote part of the country to incur considerable expense, and parents would be cautions in furnishing funds to send young men up to London on the uncertainty of their succeeding; so that those persons who can present themselves for examination without incurring any expense would have a great advantage. I was, I confess, rather astonished to hear the hon. Member for Dudley (Sir S. Northcote) argue that the system of open competitive examination was the natural system, and that of limited examination an artificial system. By this antithesis the hon. Baronet intimates that he approves the one system and condemns the other, and he uses the word "artificial" opprobriously; but I do not think that any system can be devised to which the term does not apply. Is the hon. Baronet prepared to say that the Judges of the land should be appointed by open competition? Will he say that the present "artificial" system is universally and in all cases to be condemned? If he does not, then, I think, his argument falls to the ground, and I feel sure that he is not prepared to go that length. The hon. Baronet, in the course of his speech, referred to a work which deserves, as it has obtained, much attention—the work of M. de Montalembert—De l' Avenir Politique de l' Angleterre. In this work, after touching upon the question of education, that distinguished writer approached that of administrative reform, and the introduction of the principle of open competition for the civil service, expressing his strongest disapprobation of that system, which he regarded with the utmost alarm, and expressed that alarm in the most nervous and energetic language, I happen to know, from communicating with another French statesman, whose name, if I were to disclose it, would command the instant respect of the House of Commons, that the fears entertained by Count Montalembert were shared in by many of the most eminent continental statesmen, who thought they saw, in the plan of open competition, an advance to that continental system of centralisation which was the horror and dread of all continental statesmen. The slow but undeniable advance of administrative centralisation has increased the number of offices to give away. The demand for places is, and always will be, greater than the supply; but both the demand and the supply have increased. This is the greatest danger to which England is exposed. The evil is far from being as great as in the nations of the Continent, but England is already on the fatal declivity; it is time for her statesmen to perceive that the universal and immoderate desire of public offices is the worst of social maladies. It diffuses over the entire body of the nation a venal and servile humour which is quite compatible, even among those who are the best paid, with a spirit of faction and anarchy. It creates a crowd of hungry applicants, ready to go all lengths in order to satisfy their appetite, and capable of any baseness as soon as they are satiated. A nation of place-hunters is the last of nations. There is no ignominy to which it may not be made to submit. Now, Sir, I do not read these remarks, as entirely concurring in the strong expressions here used by M. de Montalembert. It must be remembered that they proceed from a Frenchman, who has witnessed in his own country the all-engrossing tendency of administrative centralisation, and knows the mischievous influence which a central governor, with a powerful machinery under his control, is able to exercise in crushing the liberties of a nation. We must, therefore, make allowance for the feelings of a writer belonging to the French parliamentary party. Yet I confess that I, in some degree, share in the opinion of M. de Montalembert, that it is not desirable for the Executive Government to hold out ostentatiously and ambitiously to the public as prizes for their unrestricted competition all vacancies occurring from time to time in the civil service. If this principle of open competition were applied to the civil servants of the Crown, it is clear that the same principle must be extended to all other appointments of an analogous description. We must include within the scheme of my noble Friend not only the clerkships in our public offices, the tidewaiters and officers connected with the Customs, but that numerous class of paid officials appointed by county magistrates, town councils, boards of guardians, and by all the various other municipal authorities in the United Kingdom, must be placed under a similar regulation. It is impossible to draw any well-grounded or well defined distinction in this respect between these two categories of appointments, and I defy my noble Friend to adduce any good reason why open competition should be applied to one and not to the other. The Order in Council issued last Session was intended to systematise and perfect a mode of examination for public offices previously existing, although existing in but a crude and elementary shape, and, being designed merely to improve a plan already in practical operation, it introduced no new principle. The scheme of my noble Friend, however, is altogether unprecedented in this country as a mode of selecting persons for civil appointments, proposing as it does to throw those situations open to the competition of the world, and to permit all persons indiscriminately to come forward as candidates without requiring them to possess any qualification whatever. And this principle is not only novel as regards England, but quite unexampled in any other nation, and, indeed, even alien to the practice of our private mercantile and commercial establishments. We do not find that the railway companies or the other great commercial bodies of this or any other country have ever resorted to open competition as a means of choosing their servants. The change, therefore, to which the noble Lord's Motion points is not one of degree, like the Order in Council, which it was fully within the competence of the Crown to issue for the regulation of its civil servants, but goes far beyond that, and seeks to introduce an entire innovation. Moreover, it is evident that a scheme of that nature cannot be properly carried into effect except under the authority of Parliament; and for that purpose a Bill would have to be brought into this House, where the matter would be fully discussed while passing through all the successive stages of a legislative measure. The same ordeal would then be repeated in the other House; and thus the mature judgment of Parliament would be pronounced upon the policy of introducing such a system. I freely grant that it is difficult for an individual Member of Parliament to introduce a Bill into this House touching the service of the Crown, and I do not reproach the noble Lord for abstaining from taking that course and moving an Address to the Crown instead. But I put it to the House whether, if it be desirable that a practical measure should be submitted on the subject, it would not have been better to have resorted to the usual mode of asking leave to introduce a Bill rather than to have endeavoured to arrive at a decision under what I must term accidental circumstances—by which I mean by the result of a Motion for an Address to the Crown, assented to on a Thursday night, and carrying with it no more authority than the sanction of the limited number of Members who might happen to be present at that single discussion. I have now stated to the House the views on this question, which after careful consideration I have been able to form. I ask hon. Members who may be inclined to vote for this Motion, calmly to consider whether the Order in Council of last Session is not—as the Dean of Hereford described it—a most important step towards the improvement of our civil service; whether it has not been carried into effect with vigour and efficiency, and in a fair and independent spirit; and whether, before the experiment has been tried for more than a twelvemonth, it would be well now to interfere with its working by introducing hastily and precipitately an entirely new principle? I think the House will act a wiser part if it rests contented with the limited application of the rule of competition combined with nomination already in operation, and which, under reasonable restrictions, Her Majesty's Government are anxious to extend to other departments as new vacancies occur. We are also desirous to give the fairest trial to the system, and to accord the utmost support to the Civil Service Commissioners; and I therefore appeal to the House to refuse its assent to the Motion of the noble Lord, which would put a sudden termination to an experiment which ought at least to be continued for another year on its present footing, in order to afford us fuller experience of its tendency and results. For these reasons, Sir, I now beg to move the previous Question.

Whereupon Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."


Sir, I have the agreeable duty to perform on this occasion of offering my best thanks both to the noble Lord who has introduced this Motion, and to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has opposed it. I have to thank the noble Lord as well for his Motion as for the effective and prudent manner in which he has submitted it to the House. I have also to thank my right hon. Friend, first, because, although he is not prepared to accede to the Address now moved, he has yet adopted the mildest form of opposition to it by declining to ask the House to pledge itself to an absolutely adverse vote, and choosing rather to meet my noble Friend on the question of time. I am further indebted to my right hon. Friend for the ground on which he has based his opposition; for, in a more liberal spirit than is usually displayed by a man who makes a grudging admission, he freely acknowledged that the only principle on which this Motion can be discussed is, what is the rule that is likely to be most advantageous to the efficiency of the public service? If all men gave a bonâ fide assent to this concession of my right hon. Friend, I believe there would be little difficulty in disposing of the whole of this question. There is, I know, a general belief that the system of patronage and nomination for admissions to the public service is in some way or other connected with the upholding of the Government and the security of our institutions, or is necessary to the working of this House, and this is the real obstacle to the measure recommended by my noble Friend. The frank avowal of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, however, fairly silenced that argument. I have likewise to thank my right hon. Friend for introducing into this debate the name of a distinguished foreigner whom I have the honour to number among my friends, and to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred as an authority on his own side of this question. Now, I should not be at all surprised if Count Montalembert, or any other Frenchman, or if any Prussian, or even any native of almost any other continental State, were represented as being afraid of a measure that would tend to give the highest efficiency to the public service. In countries where you have not got free institutions in full vigour and unfettered action, it may be a question whether it is desirable to concentrate all administrative and political power in the hands of a single class; but if I am told that in such a country as ours there is a danger of making the civil service too strong for the safety of the State, my answer is to point to this House, and to say that the Commons of England are strong enough to prevent the growth of any power that may be prejudicial to the safety and liberties of the people. It may, perhaps, in future times be a matter for consideration whether the House of Commons has not a tendency to overstep the boundaries of its own authority and to absorb all power in itself, but as long as it continues to possess the strength it has derived from its origin, its history, and its character, it is idle, pusillanimous, womanish, to talk with terror about making the civil service so strong in skill and knowledge that it may he likely to interfere with the free action and institutions of the country. England, I am willing to admit, happily occupies in this respect a different position from other countries. In certain continental States the experiment may be perilous; but in England you may make the civil service as strong as you please—confident that the stronger you may make it the more competent will you render it for the satisfactory transaction of the public business. I cannot but think that my right hon. Friend was rather unfortunate in his quotations from Montalembert, for he cited the very words that, in my opinion, cut the ground from beneath his own feet. Montalembert, one of the greatest masters of eloquence that France has ever possessed, deprecates the great increase of public appointments, and does so in language that would be an excellent answer for a Chancellor of the Exchequer when importuned to create additional offices. He objects to such a practice on the ground that it is detrimental to political morality, hurts the spirit of energy in a nation, and creates a crowd of hungry applicants for office, whose venal and servile habits threaten to lower the independence of departments, and who want even the poor merits that may accompany such qualities. Do you fear to promote the prevalence of a venal and servile temper? Then discourage nomination, for it is the system of nomination that fosters such a temper. The man who presents himself to have his merits ascertained is no hungry applicant. He does not cringe for favours—he does not sell his conscience, nor ask another man to be guilty of that baseness on his behalf. He comes thinking himself qualified in his degree to serve his country, and manfully requests that his competency to render such service may be tested by a fair and open investigation, where neither fear, nor favour, nor affection, may avail to procure for him a dishonest advantage. These are the views for which authority may be cited from Montalembert, and if my right hon. Friend is satisfied with the quotation, I can only say that I am not less so, for I believe that it goes much further to establish a case against his position than to support it. Among the eminent individuals whose suffrages were collected on this important question there was, of course, a class of persons connected with the interests of education in all its departments; and there was scarcely one—indeed I am not certain that there was even one—of all those who are practically acquainted with the state and conduct of education in this country, who did not only assent to the plan recommended by the noble Lord (Lord Goderich), but enthusiastically advocated its adoption. They all concurred in stating that no system of public endowment, however splendid, could do so much for education in England as the system now under consideration, which represents all the best results of endowment without its costliness or any other of its concomitant evils. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quoted Dr. Dawes, the present Dean of Hereford, as opproving the present system. So, no doubt, he did, as a step in the right direction; but my right hon. Friend has arrested his own studies of the remarks of the Dean of Hereford at a very unfortunate point, for if he had gone but two pages further he would have seen that the Dean concludes with the expression of a hope that the present system will be carried to a much more advanced point, and that ultimately we shall adopt the system of competition. My right hon. Friend lays great stress on what he terms the grave responsibility that devolves on the heads of departments in appointing young men to office. Now, I confess that I should like to have analysed the mind of the right hon. Gentleman at the time he was making that statement. I entirely concede that there is a real responsibility resting on the heads of departments with respect to the public appointments that are made, but they are appointments made in the eye of the world, and not such as those referred to. My right hon. Friend asks why they do not apply the principle of competition to judgeships? The answer is plain. They could not ascertain qualities necessary to Judges by competition; but still responsibility in their regard rests on the Government. If the Lord Chancellor were to appoint a series of Judges with respect to whom it afterwards became clear that one-third of them would have been rejected on examination, the Chancellor would be taken strictly to account in this or the other House of Parliament, and be made responsible for the exercise of his patronage. But what is the responsibility of Government with regard to young men appointed to the Customs, or the Inland Revenue Department, or any other office of the civil service? If my right hon. Friend were to stand up in this House and assert that, in respect of such appointment, there is practically any responsibility whatever, he would be overpowered with the torrents, not only of his own laughter, but by the laughter of every one of his colleagues on the Treasury Bench. What I remember to have heard Mr. Wakley say on this subject is strictly true—"Ministers may be responsible, but they will not respond." Whoever heard of their being called to account for such matters? The offices are too insignificant. When, fifteen years ago, some officers of the Custom House were proved to have been implicated in most nefarious practices, what became of the responsibility of those who appointed them? No one ever dreamt of raking up the records of the Secretary of the Treasury to show that one of the guilty parties may have been a man who took a bribe of £50 at an election? The doctrine of responsibility in such cases is a pure delusion—a mere stalking-horse. Its reality exists, no doubt, in its own sphere; but do not use it as a stalking-horse in a sphere with which it has nothing whatever to do. My right hon. Friend, as it appears to me, laid by far too much stress upon the responsibility of the heads of departments. The head of a department has its own responsibility in its conscience, but so has every despot on the face of the earth. It is not that responsibility which my right hon. Friend means to apply to the public service, and which he says is the great security. The greatest security, however, is, the fullest examination of fitness. If the total number examined were 1,416, and if out of that number 463 were dismissed as utterly incompetent, although those nominations were made under the sense that the parties would be subjected to examination, what inference are we to draw as to the nominations which were made before any examination at all was in existence; before there was any check whatever on the disposition of hon. Gentlemen to consult their own political convenience and their own political interests, and to make a victim of the public service for the promotion of those political interests? The only and natural inference to be drawn is, that a large percentage of the persons appointed under the old system, must have been inefficient for their offices? My right hon. Friend has not supplied us with a great deal of matter for the prolongation of this debate, but he said, under the system of nomination, one advantage was that a single examination could be conducted in any particular spot, but if there were competitive examinations there would be the greatest possible inequality between the inhabitants of great towns and the inhabitants of small towns and country villages, inasmuch as the inhabitants of great towns would be at their own homes with their fathers and mothers, whereas the inhabitants of country villages would have to come up, say to London, and find lodgings at some expense while the examination was going on. Now does my right hon. Friend really see what is the apparent meaning of his argument? Does he really intend us to understand that if a particular person in a particular village in Hertfordshire, far less in Cumberland or Northumberland, had a nomination, the examiners would have to go down and examine him close to his paternal roof beside his own domestic hearth, and close to the graves of his ancestors? I apprehend this system of examination must necessarily be centralised, and the disadvantage under which the inhabitants of the country labour, as compared with the inhabitants of the town, is one of those which attach to rural life, and which is accompanied by many advantages not enjoyed by any other class. My right hon. Friend said, if we adopt this Motion, we must go on to establish competition for all minor and local offices throughout the country. I say, with respect to that, we have not got hold of them, the Government is not responsible for such appointments, and that is the very reason why my noble Friend (Lord Goderich) should not be charged with responsibility for the mode of election to those offices. But I beg the House to observe the very moderate nature of the Motion of my noble Friend. My right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) has represented the Motion, as if he contemplated laying down a sweeping proposition that all admissions to the civil service whatsoever should be conducted by open competition. My right hon. Friend certainly could not have read the Motion. It assures Her Majesty that, if She is disposed to make trial in the civil service of the system of open competition, She will have the support of this House, discharging its proper functions, namely, providing the means which the consequent expenditure will render necessary. Surely, "in making trial of that system," words were adopted for meeting, by anticipation, this objection, and showing that, on the contrary, my noble Friend would proceed prudently, and step by step, and apply the principle, not in doubtful cases, where fair argument might, perhaps, be raised as to the best mode of ascertaining the merits of those candidates, but in those cases where the advisers of the Crown feel assured that it is a fit and proper mode of so doing. I am bound to admit that, not only has Parliament established a very admirable and authoritative precedent by making admission to the civil service of the East India Company perfectly free, but that the noble Lord the present Secretary for War has, with great courage, introduced the system of perfectly open competition into an important military department—namely, the corps of Engineers. If, after admitting clerks to the Treasury and landing-waiters to the Customs, it were said, "Now apply this system to the Engineers," I could understand the plausibility of the argument. The question of admission to the Engineers has tenfold the difficulties attending it. You may be safe in admitting clerks to the Treasury, and landing-waiters to the Customs, but pause before you rashly determine upon unrestricted competition in giving admission to the Engineers. We are, however, placed in a different position. Lord Ponmure has made the experiment. He has made trial, not fixed in letters of iron, in the difficult case of the Engineers, and I believe I shall be borne out by the voices of all who are cognisant of the results, that even in that case they were most satisfactory. Let the House dismiss the delusion that they are asked by a sweeping measure to make all appointments subject to competitive examination. The invitation is to make further trial, to give further extension to a system, the result of which, as introduced in a modified form, has been such as to encourage you to proceed. Although it is perfectly true, if you permanently fix the system and make it universal, I quite agree that it ought to be the subject of an Act of Parliament, you may have the system tried as last year, by the authority of the Crown, and you will have nothing to do but to vote the money connected with the establishment. All, then, that is necessary is publicly to address the Crown, respectfully imploring Her Majesty to proceed in the path on which Her advisers recommended Her to enter, that further fruits and benefits may be derived from a system which has already been found, in its very beginning, so advantageous to the country.


said, he could not consider the Motion under consideration in any other light than as an attempt to establish the principle of open competition. For his own part he did not in the smallest degree object to the system of examination, and he last year supported the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. V. Scully). The Resolution began by expressing satisfaction at the zeal of the Commissioners in applying a remedy to the deficiencies of the civil service. Now, he (Mr. Lushington) had been some years in the civil service, and he could state that the deficiencies of the service had been greatly exaggerated, and that the Report of the Commissioners, proceeding upon false premises, led to a conclusion which was untenable and impracticable. That conclusion was, open competition. There were many papers written in answer to that Report by public servants of experience; and the feeling was general among them as to the impracticability of the scheme. Those who were in its favour were chiefly members of the Universities, disposed to carry theory too far—men of the same class as those who, in a scheme for national education, had desired to examine peasants' children in foreign languages and musical notation. Mr. Waddington, the Under Secretary for the Home Department, had written thus upon the subject:— Why are the heads of departments the only proper persons to make appointments to the civil service? Because they are responsible for the mode in which their business is conducted—responsible to the Crown and to public opinion. They know best the nature of the work which is to be done, and the peculiar abilities and qualifications required. They are generally men of long experience, great penetration, and keen insight into character, and are the least likely to be imposed upon by recommendations and interest. Moreover, they have the means of making inquiries as to the birth, parentage, moral character, and acquirements of the candidates; and they have experienced men under them to give them assistance in making the selection, and as interested as themselves in making a good choice. Even the Civil Service Commissioners stated they did not consider an intellectual examination to be an unerring test of the qualification of a candidate, and that the duty of ascertaining their character was attended with considerable difficulty. It was stated by the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) that all the evils of patronage were owing to the system of nomination. He (Mr. Lushington) considered it was an undoubted evil that the nomination should be in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury; but he did believe that those evils would not result if the appointments were vested in the heads of departments. The hon. Member for Dudley (Sir S. Northcote) referred to the influence this system would exercise on the general education of the country; but, as stated by Mr. Lingen, the Secretary to the Committee of the Privy Council on Education, the question should be considered apart from its bearing on education, or its benefits to individuals. The system now established required the candidates to pass an examination which was a complete test of competency, and he saw no reason for rushing into a new system. He did not see how competition would ensure competency more than nomination. Some of the Reports went so far as to recommend that no person should be promoted without undergoing a competitive examination, and in some cases he knew the rule had been enforced. If they once opened the door to competition, they could not stop short of that. For his part, he could see no objection to nomination by the heads of departments after the candidate had been subjected to an examination as a test of fitness. The requirements for clerks in the different offices were very different; and they required men who could be trusted, men of good faith and high honour, and it was universally admitted the public servants of this country were now men of that class. He believed they never would have heard much of this system of competition if the Ministers of State had always acted under a due sense of their responsibility in making appointments. If the system was carried out it would put an end not only to patronage, but to party; and the late Sir Robert Peel had well declared that the maintenance of party was a most powerful instrument of Government. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer, instead of moving the previous question, had met the Motion by a direct negative, he would have supported him. He would vote against the Motion because he believed a system of open competition was opposed to the welfare of the service of which he had been so long a member.


said, that a technical objection had been pointed out to him to his moving the Address while Mr. Speaker was in the chair. It was an objection which had not struck him, and evidently did not strike Mr. Speaker at first; and, perhaps, as he was but a young Member of the House, the Government and the House would allow him to withdraw the Motion, and move it again in a slightly altered form—namely, that the House would resolve itself into Committee tomorrow for the consideration of the Address. The debate might be taken all the same and the division; but private Members had so few opportunities of bringing questions before the House, that unless they acceded to his request, it was difficult to see when he could bring it on again.

Motion and Previous Question, by leave,withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That this House will, To-morrow, resolve itself into a Committee to consider of an Address to Her Majesty to thank Her Majesty for having caused to be laid before this House the Report of the Civil Service Commissioners; to state humbly to Her Majesty, that this House has observed, with great satisfaction, the zeal and prudence with which the Commissioners have proceeded in applying a remedy to evils of a serious character, the previous existence of which has now been placed beyond dispute; and also the degree of progress that has been made, with the sanction of the heads of various Departments of the State, towards the establishment of a system of competition among candidates for admission to the Civil Service; to assure Her Majesty of the steady support of this House in the prosecution of the salutary measures which She has been graciously pleased to adopt; and humbly to make known to Her Majesty, that if She shall think fit further to extend them, and to make trial in the Civil Service of the method of open competition as a condition of entrance, this House will cheerfully provide for any charges which the adoption of that system may entail.


said, he was at a loss to see any material distinction between the plan proposed by the noble Lord and the proceeding advised by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—for it came equally to this, that it was desirable to introduce the system of examination into the public departments—he should, however, if the House were called upon to divide, vote in favour of the Resolution of the noble Lord. The right hon. Gentleman said that the directors of the great companies did not act upon this system. That might be true; but they were gradually introducing it; and if the Government were to set them the example they would hail it with pleasure, as calculated to be of the greatest possible service to all the public companies of the country. They had heard it said that a system of examination would lead to a bureaucracy. He (Mr. Ewart) did not understand how the terms bureaucracy and open competition could be synonymous or convertible terms. There might be a bureaucracy of ignorance as well as a bureaucracy of intelligence; he should infinitely prefer a bureaucracy of intelligence to the other. He thought that the adoption of this proposal would diminish, not increase, the power of the House of Commons, the extension of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Mr. Gladstone) had said would be dangerous to the State. We all remembered that it was said in the introduction to so common a book as Delolme on the British Constitution, that the great danger to this country would arise when the Legislature should usurp the functions of the Executive. Now, by introducing efficient public servants, the House would diminish its power over the Executive. It would be compelled to support the Government for its measures, not for its patronage. He entirely concurred with the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Lusbington), that personal honour and gentlemanly feeling ought to be taken into account in estimating the merit of candidates for appointments in the civil service; but he could not concur in the interpretation put by the hon. Member on Sir Robert Peel's defence of government by party—he was at a loss to conceive that by government by party Sir Robert Peel meant government by place and patronage. He thought that party meant (as Burke understood it to mean) the association of certain men together for the maintenance of certain principles. It was, in his (Mr. Ewart's) opinion, above all things necessary to eradicate the system of nomination—it exerted the most noxious influence over the House; it was the poison tree of the State; or rather the parisitical plant which stifled and exhausted the constitution round which it clung. It was the same system which prevailed in the United States—derived, perhaps, from us, and extended; there all places were vacated immediately on the appointment of a new President. If we were to take the first step in this matter, and introduce the system of open competition, we should not only do infinite good to this country, but should confer a blessing upon the world at large.


said, that after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was not prepared to renew the recommendation which he had given to the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. V. Scully), when a similar Motion was brought forward last year. He thought that the promises which the Government then made deserved the attention of the House, and he would admit that those promises had been honourably and honestly redeemed, and the Report which had been laid upon the table showed, that in appointments made by the Government examination was now the rule. In his opinion the adoption of this system of competitive examination would have the best possible effect upon the character of education throughout the country. In no country in the world was education so costly and so inefficient as in England, as might be seen from the fact that, out of 1,456 candidates examined by the Commissioners, only 868 had passed. That education, for commercial purposes, was at a very low ebb he had himself had experience; for he and two other hon. Members of that House had for some time been endeavouring by competitive examination to select a man fit to fill a particular situation, but they had not yet been able to obtain a good bookkeeper who could speak French and Italian. It was admitted on all sides that examination was desirable, and the question for the House to consider was, whether it should be a competitive examination or not. The system of competitive examination had been adopted by the Inns of Court, by solicitors, and in other walks of life, and there was no reason why it should not be the rule of the civil service. From a statement made by Sir James Graham in the House the other night, it appeared that the total number of situations at the disposal of Government was 14,000, and that nearly 700 vacancies occurred yearly. If this vast mass of official servants were fairly chosen by merit, and not for political reasons, such miserable failures as had occurred would never arise, because incapacity would stand no chance in competitive examinations. He should therefore support the Motion of the noble Lord.


said, he should oppose the Motion. It was a fallacy to suppose that a man's merit could be accurately discovered by a single exanimation. It was not by one contest, but by the competition of a whole life, that the public pronounced opinion on a man. If the public were often mistaken notwithstanding the competition on which it depended, how much more probable was it that this shorter competition would fail to secure the object? It appeared to him idle pedantry to say that, by a public means of competitive examination, they could tell which of two persons was most competent to fill a clerkship in a public office. As regarded the spirit of party, which it was now so much the fashion to decry, he maintained that it was to that spirit that the country was indebted for nearly all that was great and good in its institutions; and, believing that what was now proposed would tend to diminish the fair and legitimate influence of party, he should vote against it. If a man joined himself to a party in whose principles he had confidence, he was justified in desiring, as Burke said, to see those who held those opinions in places where they might give effect to them. Examinations might be all very well for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not individuals were absolutely disqualified for offices which they applied for; but the question was, whether examiners were to have the power of deciding that, of two persons, he was best fitted for a public office who was best versed in classics or mathematics. In his opinion, under such a system it would often happen that the worst candidate would be selected. Though he gave his noble Friend credit for being actuated by the best motives, he believed he was mistaken in supposing that what he proposed would prove beneficial to the public service.


said, he objected to the adoption of an abstract Resolution, such as that under discussion. He thought it was rather premature to call upon the House to express approbation of the mode in which the Civil Service Commissioners had conducted the examinations. He had great doubts as to the wisdom displayed in many of the questions. He remembered seeing the following among the questions put to a candidate for the civil service in India? "What was the political condition of the Welsh in the time of the Anglo-Saxons?" As a Welshman, he naturally felt considerable interest in the history of his country, but he certainly could not give much information with regard to its political condition in the time of the Anglo-Saxons, and he doubted whether any Member of that House—from the Premier downwards—could have answered so absurd a question. They must not disregard the probable effect of competitive examination on the mind of unsuccessful candidates and on the public. What security would there be that the examiners would conduct the examinations fairly, or that the public would acquiesce in the justice of their decisions? At present, if a person were rejected in his application for a public situation, he might soothe his wounded feelings by the consolatory reflection, that if merit were rewarded he would have been promoted; but under the proposed system, he would not only have the mortification of losing the prize he was seeking, but he would also be stamped with the mark of inferiority as compared with the person selected in preference to him. He thought that on the whole it would be much better for the House not to pledge itself to abstract Resolutions, and the system which had been commenced ought to be tried with extreme caution.


said, that after the speech of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), he should not dwell on the difference between the servility engendered by hunting after places bestowed by patronage, and the honest independence with which a candidate for office by competitive examination presented himself to seek for public employment. He considered the present system of place-hunting most demoralising to applicants for public situations. Moreover, it ought to be remembered that many men wasted their best years in vain pursuit of places conferred by favour, whereas any one who studied hard with the view of obtaining public employment would, even if he failed in obtaining office, be so much the fitter for any other occupation. He could not help thinking that the putting an end to the present demoralising system of place-hunting would be one of the most valuable results of a system of competitive examination, which the Government had fairly and honourably adopted to a certain extent. The importance of having men of character selected for public employment had been dwelt on, but he really must say that in the disposal of the majority of places, in the gift for instance of the Secretary to the Treasury, character was not the one thing most essentially looked to. He defied any one acquainted with the working of the Government, to maintain that the present system of patronage afforded any effectual security for the character and moral qualification of the successful candidates for public offices. Though success in examination afforded no security for character in itself, yet in general it must be associated with the habit of self-denial and with systematic and laborious industry; and the possession of those qualities was more likely to in sure higher moral qualities than the mere fact of some relation of the candidate having rendered some service to some Member of Parliament, who was expected in turn to render some service to some Minister. Depend upon it that it was not the best constituency that got the largest share of patronage. On the contrary, if they could have a return of the patronage distributed among the borough constituencies, they would find some places by no means immaculate almost saturated with Government places, and other large constituencies hardly receiving one appointment to every 100,000 inhabitants. Much of a Utopian character had, he thought, been said in favour of competitive examination; for he did not entertain any sanguine expectation of enormous changes to be effected through it, either in the efficiency of our public service or in the standard of education in the country; but, still he believed it afforded a better prospect of securing efficiency than the system of place-hunting and patronage, and held out a most honourable inducement for the extension of education. He believed that the great drawback and disadvantage under which the middle classes laboured with respect to education was the absence of good systematic examinations to test not only the proficiency of the pupils, but the quality of the teaching, so as to enable parents to ascertain where their children could with most advantage be placed. The efficiency of the public service was no doubt the principal object to be kept in view; but no small benefit would be derived from the effect of a. system of competitive examination upon public education. He should heartily support the Motion of his noble Friend (Viscount Goderich).


said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the fact, that no speaker had as yet addressed himself to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer against the Motion. The force of the argument, that no railway company had adopted a system of competitive examination had been eluded by the citation of his noble Friend of the certificates of the Society of Arts, to which they invited the employers of labour to give weight. No one objected to give weight to certificates, but what they did object to was to make the result of the examination binding upon the Government. The system now in operation was a test examination, and it was a strange argument against it to say, that so many having been excluded under its operation it was desirable to do something else. This was saying, "The evil has been cured, so introduce new cures." His noble Friend (Viscount Goderich) was not more successful in citing the authority of the Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Labouchere), for he was in favour not of open competition, but restricted competition. In the Civil Service Report every civil servant who gave evidence, except Mr. Wood, spoke strongly against the open competitive system. The permanent heads of departments, to the number of eighteen, gave an opinion that the scheme of a competitive examination was impracticable. Mr. Merivale said— After all that has been or can be done, it will be found that the ordinary work to be done by clerks for many years after their admission does not require, nor reward, nor stimulate first-rate talent. The qualities much more frequently called into action are method, soundness rather than quickness of memory, perseverance, subordination, patience, resolution to endure the tedium of slow advance and uninteresting labour, and contentedness in the sphere of duty—whether this arises, as it often does, from high principle, or merely from conscious unfitness for more exciting and difficult employment. Now, that opinion seemed to him to be founded upon the principle of common sense. A literary examination was assuredly no test of official aptitude. The most distinguished classical scholars had found themselves not remarkable for administrative ability. If they looked round they would not usually find those attainments united to the same qualities as those described by Mr. Merivale. He believed that the knowledge of mathematics, classics, history, and geography, desiderated by some of the friends of competitive examination, was not of the slightest use in the business of a public office. The usual qualities of the candidates certainly could not be tested by a public examination. They had in the Report specimens of the questions which it was supposed to be necessary to ask an unhappy candidate seeking a place of £90 a year— Are the laws of England and Scotland in all respects identical? If not, mention the points in which they differ. Describe the form of the various continents of the globe, and show how it has influenced the national character and history of its inhabitants. Prove the formula cos. 2 A + cos. 4 A = 2 cos. 3 A cos. A. Determine the exponential expression for sin. A and cos. A. Define specific gravity, and explain how, by means of a hydrometer, the specific gravity of a fluid may be ascertained? They might, he considered, require too much from the clerks in public offices, for there was a good deal of testimony to show that high attainments sometimes disqualified clerks from the duties they had to perform. Sir Alexander Spearman said— You want integrity, patience, diligence, application, entire trustworthiness, and a fair amount of education, gentlemanlike habits, and good moral conduct. You may now and then find a brilliant man who will patiently and diligently labour at the technical and dry details which form so large a part of the duty of the public officer; but if you expect it as a rule you will be disappointed, even if you make the ultimate reward far greater than it now is. You may undoubtedly work with too fine an instrument, and when you do you will assuredly find that it will become useless. One point urged against the competitive system had been treated with scorn, especially by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone)—namely, the apprehension that a bureaucracy like that of some continental States might be established among us. For himself, he did not regard that fear as so groundless and unfounded as the right hon. Gentleman appeared to do. If a competitive examination were introduced, a man who had read for years and invested his means in educating himself to pass the examination, might consider that he had a vested right in his office, and it would become more difficult than at present to remove those public servants who were untrustworthy. He believed that the supposed advocacy of education was at the bottom of the scheme, but an argument used by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) in its behalf seemed to him rather to tell against him—namely, the argument that all the schoolmasters were unanimous in its favour. The overwhelming majority of the members of the civil service were opposed to the scheme of open competition; the overwhelming majority of schoolmasters were in its favour; and it was therefore, in his opinion, neither more nor less, from beginning to end, a schoolmaster's scheme. No doubt, if the public offices were turned into a congeries of exhibitions for the youth educated in the grammar schools of the kingdom, some impetus might be given to education; but he would beg the attention of the House to the opinion expressed by Mr. Lingen, the Secretary of the Committee of Privy Council on Education, on this subject. Mr. Lingen said— It appears to me to be quite beside the question to discuss the organisation of the civil service as if it existed for the sake of the general education of the country. It exists, at least it ought to exist, for the sake of the work to be done, just as much as shipbuilding exists for the sake of ships, or shoemaking for the sake of shoes. The system of appointing to clerkships in the civil service as rewards of literary merit was, unhappily, a system not entirely new in this country, although, bitherto, it had not been carried to any great extent. It had been too much the practice to reward distinguished literary merit by prostituting public appointments. Hon. Members must remember that a distinguished astronomer like Sir Isaac Newton was appointed Master of the Mint—an office for which he, in his (Lord R. Cecil's) opinion, was utterly unfit. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, then, he perhaps might ensure the whole House agreeing with him when he spoke of the unsuitability of the distinguished poet Wordsworth for a place in the Excise. He believed that similar cases would be in the recollection of hon. Gentlemen with reference to persons now living whose names it would be invidious to mention. With regard to the Church, they still saw instances of high offices, requiring great administrative ability, great sanctity of character, and great dignity of demeanour, being bestowed as mere rewards for classical attainments, and he did not think the effect of such a system upon the interests of the Church had been so satisfactory as to induce a repetition of the experiment. What had been done in such cases—namely, bestowing official appointments not upon persons who were qualified for them, but upon persons who had shown their fitness for something else—it was now proposed to do in the case of every subordinate appointment; and that appeared to him so reactionary a scheme, such a revival of obsolete abuses, such a perverse system of putting the wrong man in the wrong place, that he, for one, could not give it his support.


said, he certainly must deny that Newton was unsuited to the office of Master of the Mint. He considered that the Motion of the noble Lord (Lord Goderich) deserved the support of the House, because it tended to the abolition of that system of patronage which he believed was condemned by almost every hon. Gentleman, and also because it would practically have the effect of promoting education throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had reminded them that time ought to be allowed for the trial of the present system before they proceeded to change it. No doubt that was a consideration which might have weight with those who were opposed to the system of competition; but it could have no force with those who advocated entire competition. His noble Friend was not tied down by what took place last year, for the changes then introduced were not framed in a spirit of compromise. He gave the Government full credit for the steps they had already taken towards the establishment of competitive examinations for public appointments, and he trusted they would be prepared to persevere in the same course. As to the question of the moral fitness of candidates for appointments, which had been raised in the course of the discussion, he thought the qualifications of persons in that respect would be much more satisfactorily ascertained under a system of free competition than under the present restrictive system. He believed, also, that the system advocated by the noble Lord would have a beneficial effect by introducing into the public offices men of high education, generous feeling, and great integrity; who, as the heads of departments, would probably exercise more effective supervision and more strict discipline than could be expected under the present system, when the appointments to such positions were chiefly dependent upon personal or political influence. Upon those grounds he was fully prepared to support the Motion of the noble Lord, believing that it would lead to a vast improvement in the public service, hold out a strong inducement to young men to educate themselves, and promote the cause of education itself throughout the length and breadth of the land.


said, he hoped that, as his attention had recently been called to the subject under consideration, in which he took great interest, he might be permitted to address a few remarks to the House with reference to the present discussion. He thought the Minute by which the Board of Examiners were appointed left it open to every head of a department to adopt the mode he thought best in filling up the vacancies in his department. In common with the other heads of departments, he had been obliged, with the view of answering the questions put to him by the Commissioners, to consider what was the best mode of supplying vacancies in the Colonial Office. He trusted that he entered upon that inquiry with no intention to prejudge the question. Nothing in the Minute of the Board of Examiners prohibited a recourse to unrestricted competition; but upon the best consideration which he was able to give to the subject he satisfied himself that the best means of filling up a vacancy in the Colonial Office was to select, upon his own responsibility, a limited number of candidates, taking such means as he thought proper to ascertain that they were young men of gentlemanly feelings and habits, to which he attached quite as much importance as mere moral or intellectual qualities, and also that they were highly educated, and then to ask the Examiners to choose from them the person best qualified for the situation. There was a vacancy in the Colonial Office at the present moment. He believed there were seven candidates, each of whom would of course have to undergo an examination, and he was firmly convinced that he had adopted a better mode of supplying the vacant clerkship than if, without previous inquiry, he had advertised to all the world that the situation would be thrown open to unlimited competition, and that the person, whoever he might be, who should pass the examination most to the satisfaction of the Board of Examiners would be selected. It had been asserted that the responsibility of heads of departments amounted to nothing at all; that those candidates for public employment who were recommended by Members of the House of Commons or by political connections of the Government would be preferred; and that, in short, we should still have all the vices and corruption of the system of patronage. Now, all he could said in reply to those observations was, that such abuses, if they were possible, must be owing to the grossest malpractice on the part of heads of departments, but he thought we had the best security against the occurrence of such evils. When once it became known that any vacant place in the public service would be competed for by highly-educated young men, the friends of persons who might be anxious to obtain the situation would be extremely cautious how they put their relatives in the position of candidates, unless, indeed, they had good reasons for supposing that they would be able to pass the examination with credit and success. He could assure the House, upon his honour, that he had not received a single application for the vacant clerkship in the Colonial Office from any political or party friend whatever, although the fact of such a vacancy being about to take place was perfectly well known to many persons. The applications had been from quite different sources; they had come from the great educational establishments of the country. The Dean of Christchurch had sent him one name; Dr. Jelf, the head of King's College, another; the Master of the Charter House, a third; and two had been received from the educational institutions of Ireland. He had himself added the names of two candidates—one the son of a gentleman whose services to the country through the medium of the Colonial Office, continued for a long series of years, had been inestimable, and who did not wish his son to be appointed unless he was found, on examination with others, to be the best qualified for the place; the other, the son of a gentleman who had distinguished himself in the public service in one of the colonies, but whose career of usefulness was terminated by death at an early period of his residence in an unhealthy climate. With these young men, all competent for the vacant clerkship, and with the securities for their good moral character and gentlemanly behaviour which he had stated, he firmly believed that, aiming at a practical result, he was more likely to obtain for that department of the public service, the efficiency of which he was bound, as far as he could, to secure, a good and useful clerk, than if he had thrown the situation open to public competition. He flattered himself that by the plan he had adopted it was possible to unite the advantages of both systems—namely, to obtain security for those gentlemanly habits which he held to be of the highest importance, and likewise to procure for the public service intellectual ability and attainments of the first order. It had been said that heads of departments, who were constantly changing, did not care whether they left behind them competent clerks or not; and he was sorry to observe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford seemed to attach some importance to that argument. Had the right hon. Gentleman so low an opinion of men placed in great situations—Secretaries of State, for example—as to believe that they did not care what injury they might inflict upon the departments to which they belonged, provided it did not bear fruit in their own time? Assuredly they did not act in obscurity. Their conduct was watched by men who had the deepest interest in the efficiency of the public offices—the permanent Under Secretaries, whose good opinion they would forfeit if they attempted to turn their patronage into a mere job to the injury of the country. But it must be remembered that, in spite of the moderate appearance of the Motion, it would, if adopted by the House, express on the part of the House a preference for the new system; and unless they had made up their minds that it was the best system, and ought to be adopted, they ought to negative the Motion. In the higher departments of Government, such as the Foreign and Colonial Offices, and the Treasury, he thought a system of selection from a limited number of candidates was the best to be pursued. He was not sure, however, that in the lower departments of revenue, where a very low qualification was necessary, that a test examination would not be the best. On that point, however, he could not speak so confidently, as his attention had not been so strongly called to it. The noble Lord's Motion expressed a wish that the system which it enunciated should be tried. As far as that went he (Mr. Labouchere) apprehended that it was in the power of any public man at the head of a department to try it now; and the wheel of fortune turned round so quickly in these days, and the succession of public men was so rapid, that he should not be surprised if before long there should be public men in office who might be ready to apply it. As he understood the Resolution, however, it expressed, as he had just stated, a preference on the part of the House for the system proposed. He therefore asked the House to pause before they did that. The House of Commons must not play fast and loose, and unless they had made up their minds that that system was the best, they ought not to agree to an Address to the Crown such as was now asked for. He thought that the Motion was quite unnecessary. The present system, which was confessedly a great improvement on that formerly in vogue, had scarcely yet had a year's trial; and it appeared to him that to call for any expression of opinion on the part of the House was, to say the least of it, premature. He denied that there was anything like a tone of sycophancy or servility to be found pervading the public offices. On the contrary, there was to be met with there the most cheerful, the most ready, and the most cordial co-operation on the part of the clerks—by whatever Government appointed—with whomsoever might at the time be at the head of that department; and this he attributed to the high sense of public duty and the high gentlemanly feeling which prevailed in the public offices.


in reply, said, he had heard nothing in the course of the debate which should make him shrink from asking the House to come to a decision upon the Resolution which he had proposed. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, which had been founded upon his own practice in the Colonial Office, appeared to him (Viscount Goderich) to be one directly in favour of his Motion. He doubted, however, whether the pressure upon the time of the heads of the Foreign Office or the War Office would permit them to exercise so much care in the selection of candidates to fill up vacancies as that which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) had exercised in the case of the Colonial Office. The right hon. Gentleman, in fact, though not in appearance, had followed the system that he (Viscount Goderich) had ventured to recommend. It had been said, however, by some hon. Gentlemen, that the system now proposed ought not to be extended to the revenue class. Now, one of the strongest advocates of the system was Mr. John Wood, who was at the head of a great revenue department. The noble Lord opposite (Lord R. Cecil) said that, with the exception of Mr. John Wood, all the civil servants who had given evidence on the subject, were opposed to the system now proposed. That, however, was not the case, for Colonel Larcom, Major Graham, Mr. Power, and Mr. Anderson were all in favour of it. He did not think that the adoption of that system would lead to the danger which had been prophesied. He contended that the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather tended in his favour, for he found the right hon. Gentleman had stated there were 1,416 candidates examined by the Civil Service Commissioners, and out of that number 468 had been rejected for incompetency, which gave a percentage slightly higher than that given in the Report on the table.

Whereupon Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."

The House divided:—Ayes 108; Noes 87: Majority 21.