HC Deb 24 February 1857 vol 144 cc1271-5

rose to call the attention of the House to the present mode of conducting the Examinations of Candidates for admission into the Civil Service; and to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions to have the Examination of Candidates for admission into the Civil Service in Ireland conducted as in England, by Examiners, whose character, acquirements, and experience in examinations render them peculiarly fitted for the duty. He wished to disclaim any intention of casting any imputation on the Civil Service Commissioners, or the very respect- able gentleman whom they had to assist them in Ireland. The only fault he found was that an arrangement, meant only to meet a temporary purpose, had been prolonged and continued to a period when a more satisfactory scheme ought to be adopted. In the first Report of the Civil Service Commissioners they stated that they had obtained the assistance of gentlemen as examiners whose character, acquirements, and qualifications rendered them peculiarly fit for the task; some had given their continuous assistance, others had been called in as occasion required. It appeared that three were employed continuously and eight occasionally. The second Report, just published, stated that two gentlemen were employed continuously in conducting the examinations, eight occasionally, and twelve for special purposes in England. In Ireland there was a very unfavourable contrast to this state of things. The Commissioner stated that the duties of examiner in Dublin had been undertaken by R. Ball, Esq., LL.D; but that plan was only adopted as a temporary expedient. Examination papers were sent from London, to which the candidates returned written answers; and these were sent to London for the adjudication of the Commissioners, accompanied by a written Report from Dr. Ball. He wished to speak with every possible respect of that gentleman. He was a gentleman of great integrity; but the very difficult and responsible duty of deciding on the claims and qualifications of all candidates for admission into the Civil Service in Ireland, ought not to be delegated or entrusted to him alone. It was placing him in a position in which he ought not to be any longer continued; and it was due to the service and the public that gentlemen of higher scientific acquirements and of longer academical experience should be associated with him. Another objection to his being continued as sole Examiner was that he held a situation under Government. It was impossible that Dr. Ball himself could be influenced by that; but the public mind in Ireland was peculiarly sensitive on that point. The Reports of Dr. Ball had not been published, which left it uncertain whether the decisions were made by himself or by the Commissioners upon his Reports. This was not fair to the candidates, nor to Dr. Ball himself; it took away from him the responsibility of the decisions, and left the public in ignorance by whom they were made. It was to supply for Ireland the same agency and machinery as was employed in England, and to obviate all ground for suspicion or complaint, that this Motion was made. There would not be the slightest difficulty in procuring for Ireland the agency he sought to establish. There were in Dublin many gentlemen of very high academical position, and of great literary attainments, whose services might be obtained by the Government.


seconded the Motion. He would also bear testimony to the great abilities and respectability of Dr. Ball; but it would be more satisfactory to all parties if the mode of conducting the examinations in England were adopted in Ireland. The great value of the system of competitive examination consisted in the manner in which it was conducted, and that depended in a great measure on the skill and experience of the examiners; and, though it might be open to the disadvantage of not always securing the man most fitted for the post, still it secured an educated man, and carried out the principle of merit being the only qualification for appointment. The system had had a great effect in giving an impulse to education throughout the country, and he should be glad to see it still further extended.

Motion made, and Question put— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions to have the Examination of Candidates for admission into the Civil Service in Ireland conducted as in England, by examiners whose character, acquirements, and experience in examinations render them peculiarly fitted for the duty.


said, the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion had stated with perfect accuracy the mode in which the examination for admission to the civil service was conducted in Ireland. The examination papers were prepared by the Commissioners in London; they were sent to Ireland, where the examination was conducted under the inspection of a local officer; and, after the examination was completed, the papers were collected and returned to the Commissioners in London, with the report of the person who had conducted the local examination. The hon. Gentleman had, however, omitted to state that the examinations in the provinces in England and in Scotland were conducted in a similar manner. There was no peculiarity in the system adopted in Ireland except this, that as there were in that country a considerable number of examinations, instead of confiding their conduct to some local officer of the department, who might be accidentally upon the spot, a gentleman had been employed in Dublin to conduct the examinations regularly. That gentleman was Dr. Robert Ball, of whom he had received very high recommendations, and to whose qualifications the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Napier) had borne testimony, and it might, therefore, be confidently stated that the selection of that gentleman was a proper one, and that he was quite competent to conduct the examinations. It was most important to maintain unity in the standard of examination, and there ought therefore to be one system of examination and one standard enforced with regard to candidates for the civil service in different parts of the United Kingdom, and that result was obtained under the present system. It was, of course, important that that uniformity should be observed in Ireland, for, although there were there many public departments peculiar to that country, there were also branches there of the public services which had their central offices in London. Since the establishment of the system of examination 237 persons had been examined in Ireland for those public departments which had their central offices in London,—namely, 31 for appointments connected with the Customs, 149 for appointments to the Inland Revenue Department, 46 for the Post Office, 5 for the Admiralty, and 6 for the War Department, and these persons might, under certain circumstances, be transferred to any part of the United Kingdom. Only 47 persons were examined for those public departments which had offices exclusively in Ireland. He thought the House would see that, for the purpose of maintaining uniformity of standard, and of having the same description of examination for officers of Customs and Excise in Ireland and in England, it was most material that the examination should be conducted under the control of the same set of Commissioners. He thought, under these circumstances the hon. Gentleman would scarcely expect that he should accede to his Motion; but he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would say that the Government were most desirous that these examinations in Dublin should be conducted in such a manner as to give satisfaction to the candidates and their relatives, to conduce to the advantage of the public service, and incidentally to afford a stimulus to education. If it could be shown that Dr. Ball was not equal to the duties which devolved upon him, and that he needed assistance in the discharge of his duties, the Government would be ready to consider the propriety of affording him such assistance. He did not, however, think that it would be desirable to establish an independent Board of Commissioners in Dublin, acting upon principles different from those adopted by the Board in London, and applying a different system of examination to all candidates for the civil service. He hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would rest satisfied on its being stated that the Government was desirous of acceding to the spirit of his Motion, and that he would not therefore press his Motion to a division.


said, the numbers given by the right hon. Baronet furnished a reason for conducting the examinations in Ireland on the same principle as those in England. He must decline to withdraw his Motion.


said, that the desire of the Government to carry out the spirit of the Motion was rather vague. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean that, after an inquiry into the subject, he would seek to preserve the principle of uniformity in the system by appointing, in addition to Dr. Ball, some other gentlemen as associates of the doctor in Dublin? If so, he (Mr. Hamilton) thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to rest satisfied; but if the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant, by the spirit of the Motion, that the present system should continue, he was of opinion that his hon. and learned Friend ought not to be satisfied.


said, he did not think it desirable that the ultimate decision with respect to the examination should be taken out of the hands of the Commissioners in London, and vested in an independent body in Dublin. Dr. Ball simply conducted the examinations in Dublin, and did not decide upon the respective merits of the candidates; and if his unaided agency was insufficient for the proper conduct of the examinations, the Government would be quite ready to take into consideration the propriety of affording him some assistance.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 35; Noes 44: Majority 9.