HC Deb 14 July 1857 vol 146 cc1463-86

then rose to move the following Resolution:— That, in the opinion of this House, the experience acquired since the issuing of the Order in Council of the 21st day of May, 1855, is in favour of the adoption of the principle of competition as a condition of entrance to the Civil Service, and that the application of that principle ought to be extended in conformity with the Resolution of the House, agreed to on the 24th day of April, 1866. He said, that the answer he had received a few days ago from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject was so unsatisfactory that he had no alternative except to appeal from what appeared to be the present decision of the Government to the opinion of the House of Commons. He had observed with regret a material difference between the expectations raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the end of last Session, and the course which appeared from the last Report of the Civil Service Commissioners to have been since followed by the Government on this subject. In July last the right hon. Gentleman, in stating his intention with regard to the system of admission to the Civil Service, divided the offices included in it into three classes. The first class contained officers in the position of tidewaiters, post-office messengers, and post-masters, and those who filled the lowest offices in the Civil Service of the Crown, to whose case, in the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the system of competitive examination would be inapplicable. To save the time of the House, he did not on the present occasion intend to contest that opinion, The other classes into which the right hon. Gentleman divided the Civil Service were two in number—the one comprising those clerkships in the superior offices such as those of the Secretaries of State, who were appointed by the heads of their respective departments, and the other those in the Revenue Departments, the clerks in which were nominated by the Treasury; that was to say in theory by the First Lord, but in practice by the parliamentary secretary. With respect to the first of those two classes, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated last July that it was the intention of the Government to extend to all those departments the system then followed in the colonial and some other offices, under which limited competition was introduced, and a certain number of persons nominated by the heads of departments competed together for the vacancies. Now, he had examined the last Report of the Civil Service Commissioners, and he found that instead of that system having been extended to all those offices, it had been adopted in only two departments of that description, which had not already adopted it in July last—namely, the Home Office and the Board of Works; and there was evidence in the Report to show that it had not been adopted in the Foreign Office, the Indian Board, the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, and the Exchequer. In the statement made the other night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that right hon. Gentleman said that, though he individually approved of that mode of appointment, it was not the intention of the Government to lay down any general rule upon the subject, but that the matter would be left to the discretion of the heads of the different departments. With respect to the other class into which the right hon. Gentleman divided the Civil Service, his statement was still more unsatisfactory. In July the right hon. Gentleman told the House that he thought the mode of appointment to clerkships in the Revenue Departments required additional securities. Those were the right hon. Gentleman's precise words, and yet in the Report of the Civil Service Commissioners there was no evidence that any steps had been taken to afford such additional securities. He found that no change had been made in the mode of appointment to these offices, though the organ of the Government considered it capable of amendment, and when he addressed his question to the right hon. Gentleman the other night nothing was said on this point. Therefore an impression was left on his mind that, though the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman remained unchanged, it was not the intention of the Government to act in any way on that opinion. Under these circumstances he felt that, as there appeared to be no longer any hope of the promises held out last July being fulfilled, he had no alternative, if he did not wish to see this question retrograde, but to appeal from the decision of the Government to the opinion of the House of Commons. His object was to obtain from the House an expression of their approval of the competitive system as a mode of admission to the Civil Service, and he might almost be content to rest his Motion upon the facts which had been disclosed since this subject first engaged the notice of the public and of Parliament. In 1853, Sir Stafford North-cote and Sir Charles Trevelyan made a Report upon the reorganization of the Civil Service, which had since attracted very general attention. In consequence of that Report the Government of Lord Aberdeen introduced into the Speech from the Throne in 1854 a paragraph which clearly implied their intention to propose a Bill embodying the general principle which he (Lord Goderich) was now advocating; but owing to the war in which this country was then engaged, and the state of public affairs, such a measure was never laid upon the table. In 1855, however, the Order in Council was issued which at present regulated the mode of admission to the Civil Service. Reports had been presented by the very able Commissioners—Sir J. S. Lefevre and Sir E. Ryan—who were appointed to carry into effect the provisions of the Order in Council, which showed that those who objected to the previously existing system of appointment had had ample grounds for their opinions. The first of those Reports proved, upon the clearest evidence, that under the system formerly pursued a very large number of most incompetent persons had been admitted to the Civil Service, and that, although the questions put at the examinations were generally of the simplest description, one out of three of the persons nominated for appointments were rejected on account of the most ridiculous errors. He regretted that the second Report of the Commissioners, prepared when the new system had been in operation for two years, showed little improvement. The proportion between rejections and admissions remained the same, and persons nominated for appointments in the public service still spelt fingers "fingures," put only one n in the word government, and committed faults similar to those mentioned in the first Re- port. The evidence brought forward by the Commissioners went directly to sustain the proposal for an extension of the system of competition; and, indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had admitted as much in the course of the speech he had delivered last July. The Civil Service Commissioners had since made a most interesting Report, which showed at once that the public were extremely ready to enter into the competitive system, and that the persons appointed under it were not less zealous in the discharge of their duties than those appointed under a different method. It used to be said that the advocates of the competitive system were mere theorists. But that argument could no longer be employed, for it was clearly proved in these blue-books that the competitive system, as far as it had been tried, had been attended with most satisfactory results. The fact was—and all experience proved it—that those who in early youth devoted themselves to study with an earnestness which ensured to them success in an intellectual competition were in the vast majority of cases persons on whose moral qualifications and zeal in the discharge of their duties reliance might safely be placed. He was prepared to rest his Motion on the facts he had already referred to, and to trespass no further on the House; but as the argument had been all on one side when the subject was formerly before them, he wished to refer to some objections which might possibly have weight in the minds of some hon. Members. He believed that he could show that the adoption of the system of competitive examination would be attended with many direct and indirect advantages. He conceived that the object of those who had the power of giving appointments in the public service ought to be to select the most fit persons to fill vacant situations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had divided the offices in the Civil Service into two classes, and he (Lord Goderich) would apply the system of competition to both those classes. He would take first the class of clerkships in the superior offices. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said last year that the heads of departments exercised great care in making such appointments, and that it was their direct interest to select properly qualified persons; but he (Lord Goderich) doubted whether a Secretary of State, or the President of the Board of Control, or the heads of important departments, considering the duties they had to discharge, could be able to make very close inquiries with regard to the qualifications of the clerks they might appoint. Surely such an official could have no better test of the ability of a young man than a competitive examination, and it would be a great assistance to him in making his appointments. He was bound to consider, not merely the capacity of the candidate for the duties of the office he would be immediately called on to fill, but also his qualification for the higher posts to which he might afterwards be promoted. A competitive examination alone would test the latter. A pass examination, if fixed at the lowest standard, would give no proof of a candidate possessing qualification for the higher posts; if fixed at the highest standard, it would be so severe that very few young men would be able to pass it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had admitted the whole case with regard to many of the offices in the Civil Service, when he said that with respect to them additional security was required. It appeared that at present no competition was required, and that the Secretary of the Treasury simply nominated individuals at his pleasure. In nineteen months since the present system of examination had been introduced, the Secretary to the Treasury had nominated to 240 clerkships in the Inland Revenue Board, and Customs departments, being at the rate of about thirteen each month. Now, it was impossible that any man could make sufficient inquiries as to the qualifications of thirteen individuals every month. The right hon. Gentleman was necessarily much open to political influence in making these appointments; but he (Lord Goderich) had no hesitation in saying that such influence was of a very injurious character. It had a tendency to vitiate the relations between the Government and the Members of the House on the one hand, and between those hon. Members and their constituents on the other. He did not think it befitted the dignity of that House that the votes at elections should be influenced by the expectation that the candidates would solicit a number of clerkships from the Secretary to the Treasury on behalf of the electors or their friends and relatives. Though there was no corruption in that system, so far as regarded the relation between the Government and the hon. Members who solicited those clerkships, yet it afforded ample room for corruption so far as concerned the relation between the hon. Members and their con- stituents. The Legislature had attempted to put down bribery and corruption at elections by stringent laws. Here, then, was one source of corruption which might be cut off by abolishing the nomination system, and introducing that which he advocated. The system of procuring votes by promises to solicit places from the Secretary to the Treasury was almost as bad as that of purchasing the votes of Members of Parliament in the days of Sir Robert Walpole. He challenged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to show that the security, so far as regarded the qualification of the public officers, which his (Lord Goderich's) system would afford, would be less than that afforded by the present system; and he contended that it would be greater. One of the indirect benefits which would accrue from the adoption of his system was the great support which it would give to the cause of public education. The ability and zeal of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) had failed to procure the passing of a Bill for the promotion of public education, and he thought that there was little chance of a Bill of that kind passing at present. Let the House, then, at least advance the cause of education by the adoption of his system. They had the highest testimony to the efficiency of that system in so doing, for some of the ablest and most experienced men in the country had expressed their approval of it. The Society of Arts had adopted a system of examining members of Mechanics' Institutes, and of granting certificates. That system had been highly successful as an incentive to study. He admitted that its introduction was owing to an unhappy misapprehension that, in consequence of the success of his Motion of last year, the Government intended to introduce a competitive system of examination, which would afford young men an opportunity of obtaining admission into the various departments of the public service. The case of Ireland afforded an illustration of the effect which the adoption of this principle might produce. A gentleman, whose name would be received with the greatest respect by all connected with the sister country, and who had recently been appointed one of the Commissioners to inquire into the endowed schools of Ireland—he meant Dr. Graves—had told him that in his inspection of schools of that description, he had found that public attention in Ireland was greatly directed to this ques- tion of competition for entrance into the public service. He said that the competitions which had been established for admission to the Artillery and Engineers at Woolwich, and to the Civil Service of the East India Company, had commanded universal attention throughout Ireland; that he had found new classes established in various schools, and attention directed to subjects which had never before excited any interest on the part of masters or pupils; and that a great stimulus had manifestly been given to education even by the partial adoption of the competitive system. The effect in Ireland did not stop there. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. G. A. Hamilton) would, if he spoke, be able to bear similar testimony to that which he had just cited. According to the testimony of Professors Galbraith and Haughton, of Dublin University, special classes had been established at that university for the purpose of preparing the students to engage in these public competitions. This salutary impulse affected not one class of students merely, but the entire body; and it also reached the pupils below them. The experience of the north of England was similar in its character. He hardly ever attended a meeting at a mechanics' institute without hearing a hope expressed that the principle of competition would be applied as a mode of admission to the public service. That system was, in fact, used as an argument to incite the young men to study, and it often induced them to turn their attention to many subjects to which they would not otherwise direct their minds. It was on these grounds that he ventured to submit this Motion to the House. He had drawn it up in the most moderate terms, believing that it was not the business of the House of Commons to dictate to Her Majesty's Government the details of a measure of this description. All he asked hon. Gentlemen to do was to declare that they were favourable to extending the application of the principle of competition, and that they thought the experience, detailed in the Report of the Commissioners, showed that it had worked well as far as it had gone, while there was every reason to believe that if carried further it would work still better. It might be that, in accordance with the opinion expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year, the system of limited competition, should be applied to the higher offices, or the offices which he described as those of the first class; and that, in regard to those appointments to which the Secretary of the Treasury at present nominated, and with respect to which the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted that there was not sufficient security, the principle of open competition should be tried. All that he now asked the House to pledge itself to, however, was that it was desirable to press the Government forward in this matter, and that the system of competition ought to be more widely extended. Before sitting down, he ought, perhaps, to make some remarks in reference to a subject on which there appeared to be some misapprehension in the minds of some hon. Gentlemen. When this subject was brought before the last Parliament the erroneous notion seemed to be entertained that the advocates of competition wished that principle to be applied to promotion within the public service. That was quite a mistake. The conditions of the two cases were wholly different. In regard to first nominations, what they wanted was a system which would enable them to test the qualifications of candidates of whom they could have little or no previous knowledge. On the other hand, the clerks whom they had to promote must have been some time under the eye of their superiors, and daily engaged in that practical competition which was worth all the other competition in the world; and therefore on the heads of departments, who were the best judges of their capabilities, the responsibility for their promotion should rest. He should not have trespassed any longer on the attention of the House, were it not that he perceived from the notice paper that his noble Friend (Viscount Raynham) intended to move an Amendment to his Motion. He regretted that he could not agree to that Amendment, which it would seem, his noble Friend had not sufficiently considered. He was not enamoured of the system of limited competition—he would, personally, much prefer an open competition, but he wished to avoid the appearance of desiring to force the Government into the hasty and precipitate adoption of that principle. At the same time, he could not assent to vote for a Motion which would pledge the House to the opinion that a limited system of competition was the best. His noble Friend's Amendment was, "That it is desirable that the nomination of all persons desirous of competing for vacant appointments in the Civil Service should rest with the heads of the departments in which the vacancies occur." Take the case of the revenue departments. Did his noble Friend mean that the right to nominate should be vested, as it was now, in the Secretary of the Treasury, or did he mean to vest it in the Chairman of the Board of Customs and the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue? This point ought to be made clear. If the choice lay between nomination by permanent officers like the Chairman of those two boards and nomination by the Secretary of the Treasury, he (Viscount Goderich) would frankly admit that he thought it preferable that those nominations should be placed in the hands of the permanent heads of departments. But that arrangement would involve the introduction of a perfectly novel principle; and the noble Lord ought distinctly to show how he intended to carry it out. The Amendment would tie the hands of the Government more than his Motion, and in a much more objectionable manner. Having obtained a majority on this question in the last Parliament, he now appealed to the new Parliament because he could not help feeling that Her Majesty's Government had not fulfilled the hopes which they held out last year, but had retrograded, instead of going forward. Hon. Gentlemen were fresh from their constituents, by whom they must be aware that this subject was regarded with great interest; and he had the utmost confidence that he should that night receive their support. He did hope, however, that there would be no need to test the opinion of the House. Considering the moderate terms of the Motion which he was about to make, he entertained hopes that Her Majesty's Government would be induced to yield him their support; and it would give the greatest satisfaction to those who were interested in the subject if they thus showed—what, indeed, was all that any one had a right to expect—that they were anxious to extend the application of the competitive principle. He, for one, should deeply rejoice if the Government followed that course; but so much interest did he feel in the question, that if, unfortunately, they should be led to oppose the Motion, he should then feel it his duty to take the sense of the House. He should, therefore, conclude by moving— That, in the opinion of this House, the experience acquired since the issuing of the Order in Council of the 21st day of May, 1855, is in favour of the adoption of the principle of competition as a condition of entrance to the Civil Service, and that the application of that principle ought to be extended in conformity with the Resolution of the House, agreed to on the 24th day of April, 1856.


seconded the Motion.


said, that he could assure his noble Friend that he was fully as anxious as himself to take the competitive system as the guiding principle which should govern the admission to employments in the Civil Service. While, however, he agreed to a considerable extent with what had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down, still he thought that he had made an omission in his Resolution, and that it was desirable to add to it a few words expressive of their opinion that open competition was not altogether expedient. In reference to that point, he would endeavour briefly to answer the observations which the noble Lord had made with so much ability. In the first place, the noble Lord had said that it was almost impossible for the heads of any department of the Government to make very searching inquiries into the characters of the persons nominated. Now, he differed from him in that respect, because he considered that the heads of departments really were responsible for the character of persons whom they placed in official situations. It was true that it was desirable that there should be as little Parliamentary influence as possible in making these appointments, and that proposition formed one of the principal arguments in favour of competitive examinations. The House would agree with him that talent and ability, however desirable in a public servant, were not all the qualities that were required; it was necessary that the character of the person seeking to fill an office should be unimpeachable, and some guarantees ought be given that the candidate was in all respects an eligible person to be appointed to the Civil Service of the Crown. His noble Friend had inquired whether it would not be better if these examinations were placed in the hands of permanent officers of the Inland Revenue Department. He should be very sorry to see such a course adopted, because, while he admitted that the use of Parliamentary influence in the obtaining of such appointments should be discouraged as much as possible, yet there were so many serious objections in his view to unrestricted and open competition, that he thought it best to continue the power of appointment in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury. He considered that a very important principle was involved in the Motion, and although he did not object to its general terms in favour of competitive examination, he thought it better to add that it was not desirable that all appointments should be subject to competitive examination; and he should accordingly move to add at the end of the noble Lord's Motion the words— And that it is desirable that the nomination of all persons desirous of competing for vacant appointments in the Civil Service should rest with the heads of the departments in which those vacancies occur.

The Amendment was put, but fell to the ground for want of a Seconder.


—Any hon. Member who has listened to the perspicuous speech of the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding (Viscount Goderich), merely might have been induced to suppose that his Motion proposed to introduce some great and fundamental novelty in the mode of admission to the Civil Service. Now, I must be permitted to say, that a principle, not fundamentally new, but, nevertheless, of considerable importance, and in its extension and application novel, was introduced by the Order in Council cited by my noble Friend. Prior to that Order in Council, there was no test, except in a few cases, for ascertaining the fitness of candidates for the Civil Service; and in those cases in which a test existed, it was applied, not by any independent authority, but under the direction of Heads of Departments, who might be supposed to have some interest in finding that their nominee was qualified. By that Order in Council, a principle was established—that every candidate should undergo an examination into his fitness by an examination, not conducted by the Heads of Departments, but by independent Commissioners. This was a very important principle to adopt in regard to the Civil Service. Since that time, it has been proposed to set aside that Order in Council, to allow all persons to offer themselves as candidates, and to declare that there shall be perfectly free and open competition. Against that principle I have consistently Contended, and I still entertain the objections I have before expressed in this House to that principle of perfectly open competition. But I have also stated that, consistently with the plan introduced by the Order in Council, a fair compromise might be made with the principle of open competition, by adopting, with respect to certain portions of the Civil Service, the principle of limited competition. By this plan the Heads of Departments or the First Lord of the Treasury would name a select number of persons who should enter into competition with one another for the vacant office. I stated last year that such a plan appeared to me to be well adapted to the chief departments of the Government, to the Treasury, the Secretaries of State's offices, and the other departments of that kind. With regard to a very large number of these departments, the principle has been already acted upon. So far, therefore, my noble Friend and myself were agreed at the end of last Session. I also stated that there was a large number of officers under the Crown who discharge duties that do not require a liberal education—duties, for example, of mere watch and ward—and that for duties which were little more than mechanical, it would be altogether absurd to demand the test of a literary examination. Of this kind were such posts as those of boatmen of the Customs, messengers, and village postmasters, with regard to whom there can be nothing like a general competition; it is necessary that a postmaster should have a house conveniently situate, and the number of competitors is, therefore, limited by conditions entirely different from literary examination. I think that my noble Friend, both in an address which he made in the Session before Easter and in what he has said this evening, has assented generally to the views I expressed with regard to that class of officers. The chief difference between us was as to that intermediate class of clerks and others who were said to require a liberal education in those departments in which the Treasury has the patronage. I stated last year, and I repeat it now, that I think it peculiarly desirable that the principle of limited competition should, wherever it is possible, apply to that class, inasmuch as these appointments are not made by the person who has an interest in the selection of efficient persons, which is the case where the Heads of the Department have the nomination; and whatever my noble Friend may say about the impossibility of the Heads of Departments making an ex- amination, I think that, generally speaking, the Head of a Department will take care that the persons he appoints shall be able efficiently to discharge their duties. I think that under these circumstances the margin of practical difference between my noble Friend and myself is not very wide. I will ask my noble Friend to follow me in the statement I will now make with respect to those departments into which the plan of limited competition has been adopted as a condition for entrance. The principle has been applied to the following offices in England—namely, the Audit Office, the Board of Trade, the Civil Service Commission, the Colonial Office, the Education Department, the Home Office, and recently to the Customs and Inland Revenue Departments. I wish particularly to call the attention of my noble Friend to the circumstance, that it is the determination of my noble Friend at the head of the Government to introduce—I will not say as an invariable but as a general rule—the principle of limited competition in the case of the higher class of officers, as for example, landing waiters and gaugers in the two last-mentioned departments. Now, that I conceive to be an important statement with reference to the Resolution under our consideration, and to the speech by which it was introduced, in which my noble Friend asserted that no advance had of late been made by the Government in carrying out the principle of which he is the advocate. [Viscount GODERICH: When was the principle applied to those departments?] Recently. I may add that it has been further extended in England to the National Debt Office, the Office of Woods, the Office of Works, the Police Court, Bow Street, the Poor Law Board, the Treasury, and the War Office; while in Scotland it has been applied to the office of the Registrar General, and in Ireland to the Chief Secretary's Office, the Constabulary Office, the Loan Fund Office, the Lunatic Asylums Inspector's Office, the Public Metropolitan Police Office, the Receiver of Police Office, and to the Offices of Registrar General and Director of Prisons. To all these offices has the principle of limited competition been applied, and I may add that it will for the future be, as a general rule, extended to all those departments which are dependent upon the Treasury. I shall not speak of its extension to such a department as that of the Ecclesiastical Commission, inasmuch as, in my opinion, that cannot be regarded as a department connected with the general government of the country, and as its exemption from the operation of the principle cannot upon that account fairly be considered as a departure from the rule on which I have stated it to be, the disposition of the Government as far as possible to act. I may also state that it is the intention of my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to extend the system of limited competition, to the admission to clerkships in that department. I may further state that the only departments into which, so far as I am aware, the principle has not as yet been introduced, are the Admiralty, the Post Office, and the India Board. My noble Friend has called the attention of the House to a particular department,—I allude to the Exchequer Office, for the management of which I am supposed—but erroneously—to be personally responsible, and has observed that to that department the principle of competitive examination has not been applied. Now, I was not aware, until I instituted an inquiry into the matter, that a vacancy in that department was recently filled up, irrespective of all competition, upon the recommendation of the noble Lord who, as Controller, is at its head; and I can only repeat the assurance that the department is one for the management of which I am not personally responsible. Passing from that point, however, I feel confident that the House will agree with me in the opinion that the Government have not been standing still in relation to this subject, but that they have, upon the contrary, carried out, to a considerable extent, that principle of which the noble Lord is the advocate, and of which I, in the course of last Session, expressed my entire approval. But although I concur with my noble Friend as to the beneficial results which are likely to flow from the adoption of a system of competitive examination as a test of the efficiency of a candidate for the Civil Service, there are, I am bound to confess, no inconsiderable difficulties lying in the way of its general application. One of those difficulties consists in the circumstance that it is by no means easy to bring the candidates to one particular spot for the purpose of competition. If, for instance, you lay it down as a rule that all these examinations must be held in London, in Dublin; or in Edinburgh, it has been contended, and I confess with great show of reason, that you afford to persons living in one of those localities an advantage over those who reside in distant parts of the country. That such must be the case I think will be perfectly evident, if you consider for a moment that, inasmuch as the salaries attached to some of the clerkships, for which competition may take place, commence at a sum of only £80 per annum, you, by fixing upon London, for instance, as the place of examination, practically preclude a young man living 200 or 300 miles from the metropolis from undergoing the expense which travelling over that distance, as well as spending a few days here, would entail, in order to become a candidate at one of those examinations. The consequence would be that an undue advantage, amounting almost to a monopoly, would be given to those young men who happened to live in the neighbourhood of the place at which the examination might be held. I may, however, be told that it is quite possible to hold competitive examinations by sending the questions put at a particular place to different persons in different parts of the country, to be put by them to those who wish to offer themselves as candidates for the Civil Service. There would, I think, be found to be great difficulty in taking that course, and I am sure the House will concur with me in the opinion that it is no easy matter to lay down any inflexible rule upon the subject. Another obstacle to the adoption of any such rule consists in the ciruumstance that, whereas persons of different ages may compete at these examinations, they who are more advanced in years than their fellow-candidates will, ceteris paribus, possess an advantage which the latter will not enjoy, notwithstanding that the ability and general fitness for the public service of the younger candidates may be a thing beyond all doubt. At the Universities and at all our great public schools there is an equality of age among those who compete for honours, which leads to no such inconvenience as that to which I have just adverted; but in these examinations for the Civil Service no such equality would exist, and the consequence would be that the person who happened to be by three or four years the senior of another would have an advantage to which, so far as ability is concerned, he might not be at all entitled. These two difficulties, then, render it, in my opinion, inexpedient that this House should lay down any precise formula upon this subject of competitive examinations. I would, therefore, put it to my noble Friend—unless, indeed, he distrusts the assurances of the Government in this matter, and is dissatisfied with the explanation which I lave just given—whether he would not act wisely in not calling upon the House to assent to the terms of the Resolution which he has proposed. That Resolution is very general in its terms. It calls upon the House to adopt the principle of competition as a condition of entrance into the Civil Service. Now, my noble Friend himself does not contend that all candidates for the Civil Service should be admitted upon the principle of competition. I do not think that with respect to a village postmaster, in whose case the position of his residence and his personal trustworthiness must constitute material elements for consideration, my noble Friend will maintain that a competitive examination upon the principle of testing the literary qualifications of the candidate would be desirable. Being of opinion, therefore, that the terms of the Resolution are wider than any to which we should be justified in assenting, and that it may lead to inconvenient consequences if passed by a vote of this House, I trust my noble Friend will not deem it to be his duty to press it upon the House for its acceptance.


said, he begged to be allowed to address a few words to the House with respect to the influence of the principle of competition on the cause of education in Ireland. The question of education in Ireland had been for many years a most difficult and delicate subject, probably from the circumstance that the education of the lower orders in Ireland had been too much pressed forward. But however diverse might be the opinions of hon. Gentlemen upon that point, he never heard a second opinion with reference to the necessity of some stimulus to the education of the people immediately above the lower orders in Ireland, and he looked upon the establishment of this system of competition for public offices as one which was likely to be extremely beneficial. Dr. Gray, Mr. Galbraith, and Mr. Horton, the distinguished and able men to whom the noble Lord had referred in the course of his speech, the leaders of the movement in the University of Dublin, had applied themselves with extraordinary diligence, energy, and assiduity, to the encouragement of education in Ireland; and with reference to the effect of the competitive system their statements were most satisfactory. He had himself observed with gratification that in the various competitions for the public service his countrymen had occupied a distinguished place; and it was acknowledged that a large number of them had turned out successful candidates. It was a mistake to suppose that the effect of the system had been to encourage the practice of cramming, for it had been stated to him by Mr. Galbraith and Mr. Horton that in several instances gentlemen had been chosen for their general knowledge; while, on the contrary, several candidates who had got up particular subjects had failed in obtaining good places, thus showing that a really good education was the best mode of ensuring success. He considered, therefore, that considering the evident desire which existed among the youth of Ireland to compete for the public service, such a Resolution as that of the noble Lord was calculated to produce the most important effects on that country as regarded general education. The gentleman to whom he had referred also stated to him that it was most important that the examiner, whoever he might be, should have the public confidence, and that it was essential for that purpose that the examination papers should be published in order to afford the public an opportunity of inspecting them. With regard to the proposition itself, he understood by it that the Government were not to be stringently bound, but that it was, if adopted by the House, to be considered rather as an intimation of the course they considered it desirable that the Government should pursue. He felt persuaded that if the noble Lord at the head of the Government concurred in the views now advanced, the necessary steps would be taken to apply the system of competition to all cases which fairly admitted of it; and if the principle were admitted, he saw no objection to a Resolution of this kind. Indeed, he should have thought that the Government would have supported it. He, therefore, trusted that the House would, by passing the Resolution, impose upon the Government a duty which he hoped the Government would have no disinclination to observe.


said, that as far as he was concerned he had never asked, and never would ask, the Secretary of the Treasury for a single place for any one. When his constituents sent an application to him, he felt it to be his duty to send it to the Secretary of the Treasury; but he hoped that the time would arrive when no hon. Member of that House could under any pretence obtain from the Secretary of the Treasury or any one else any appointment whatever, but that all places would be filled up in consideration of qualification alone.


said, he should cordially support the Resolution of the noble Lord, and hoped he would take the sense of the House upon it because there was certainly some distinction to be drawn between the view of the noble Lord and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The difference was this: the noble Lord would throw open the door of competition to all who might deem themselves fit to enter into that competition, and desired that offices should be filled by the best men, without regard to politics as a qualification. The right hon. Gentleman, on the other hand, said he was in favour of a limited competition—that a certain number of candidates should be selected, and that the competition should be confined to those ten or twelve persons. But, who was to have the selection of these ten or a dozen candidates? Why, the same parties, for the most part, as at present. Suppose that a vacancy in a Government appointment in any particular borough occurred, it was quite impossible that the Secretary to the Treasury or Head of the Department should know anything of the qualification of a candidate; he therefore referred to the hon. Member for the place sitting upon that (the Government) side of the House. The hon. Member might possibly have some little knowledge of the candidate. However, a fresh delegation of the power of selection took place. Reference was made to a political agent, who finally selected the son, or brother, or cousin of one of his most active and influential political friends. Of this person the agent perhaps knew little, and the Secretary of State still less. There seemed no reason why a political leaning should not equally prevail under the system proposed by the right hon. Gentleman as under that prevailing at present. He could not see, therefore, that the principle of limited competition advocated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be any very considerable improvement upon the present practice; while he could as little see that there was anything impracticable in the Resolution of the noble Lord, which did not lay down the principle that under no circumstances should an appointment be made except upon competitive examination, but simply called upon the House to affirm the principle that the system of open competition should be employed whenever it could properly and practically be done. Only two objections had been brought against the principle of open competition. One was the distance of London from many places where vacancies occurred, and from the residence of many of the candidates. Another was, that an unfair advantage would be given to those who were of more mature age than many who might present themselves. The first he (Mr. Adams) thought was not a very strong objection in these days of locomotion and cheap travelling. Besides, considering the spread of mechanics' institutes, he would never believe that the means would be wanting to a youth of promising ability to make a journey to London to be examined. As to the question of difference of ages, he did not think the example cited by the right hon. Gentleman was a happy one. At the University all the men might be considered to be at school together; and men of two years' standing would have an advantage over those of only one. But in a general examination it would be otherwise; and young men who had just left school would be very far more fit for a competitive examination than those who had left for several years. In such a case the youngest men would probably succeed best. But it was not merely that a system of competition would give the Government the service of the best men—it would give a greater encouragement to serious study and a more urgent stimulus to the spread of sound knowledge than all the Acts of Parliament ever passed, or than all the societies, whether of arts or for other purposes, which had been established by private benevolence. Often when he (Mr. Adams) had been addressing working men at mechanics' institutes and such places, he had been met with the exclamation, "What is the good of this knowledge to me? I have quite enough already for my business of a carpenter," and so forth. More would be gained by letting these men know that real practical advantage was to be gained from study than by all the lectures in the world. It was with the utmost possible pleasure that he supported the Resolution of the noble Lord, and he hoped that, in order to test the sincerity of the Government and the sincerity of the House, he would press his Motion to a division.


said, that he would go nearly the whole length of the hon. Member who had just sat down, as an advocate for a system of open competition. That, however, was not the object of his noble Friend's Motion, and the difference between his noble Friend and the right hon. Gentleman was so slight that he confessed it had escaped his observation. His principal motive for rising, however, was because he objected to anything being painted blacker than it really was, and, consequently, to express his opinion that the present system of filling up the lower places in the Civil Service was not so bad as it had been represented to be by the hon. Member (Mr. Adams)—a fact which, he was sure, the hon. Gentleman would himself admit, when he had had a little more experience in these matters. It was true that the system of nomination by Members of Parliament was a most annoying one, and, so far from increasing, diminished the influence of hon. Members, because for every applicant who obtained an appointment, there were necessarily hundreds who were disappointed; but he did not see how it could be superseded, except by open competition. The members of the Government could know nothing of the persons who applied for appointments in different boroughs, but the hon. Members for those places were not equally ignorant of their qualifications, nor was it at all necessary that they should delegate the nomination to their political agents to be used for political purposes. He (Mr. Clay) did not profess himself to be more honest or better than his neighbours; but in the majority of cases in which he recommended persons to appointments he was acquainted with them, and considered himself responsible for them. Where he had no such knowledge he did not consult his political agent; he consulted gentlemen of the town which he represented, whom he believed would not deceive him; and this he did so impartially that he scarcely recollected making an appointment the candidate for which was not recommended by some of his political opponents as well as by his political friends. The nominations to situations in the Post Office had recently been withdrawn from Members of Parliament and given to the resident postmasters. While he rejoiced at this as relieving him from a great deal of trouble, he did not think that the new plan was at all superior to the old one. So long as the appointments in the Post Office were given through Members of Parliament, he made a point of consulting the postmaster before making a recommendation, and generally induced him to give a short trial to the person whom he intended to recommend to the Treasury. The postmaster of the borough which he represented (Hull) was one of the strongest Tories in the place, and though a personal, by no means a political friend of his. He trusted, therefore, that the hon. Member would in future look upon the House of Commons as less impure than at present he appeared to consider it.


I quite agree with my hon. Friend who spoke last, that the difference between my noble Friend who made this Motion and the Government is exceedingly small. Indeed, it is so small, that I hardly think it worth while to give the House the trouble of dividing upon the question. I accept the Motion of my noble Friend, however, according to his own interpretation of it, and not according to the interpretations which have been put upon it by other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Adams) is, in fact, though he does not say so in so many words, for the universal application of a system of general competition—that is to say, he desires that every vacant appointment under Government should be advertised, and that whoever knocks at the door and claims to be examined, should be examined for the appointment which he desires to obtain. We have often been told in this House, that Government ought to shape its course according to the example of private individuals, of merchants, of shipowners, and of railway and other great companies. Now, I have yet to learn that merchants, bankers, railway companies, or any other private associations fill up their appointments in the manner thus recommended. I may be misinformed, but I apprehend that they look out for persons who are not only qualified by their talents and attainments for the situation which they are to fill, but whom, from their position and connections, they may think trustworthy and fitted for the discharge of its duties. My hon. Friend who spoke last has clearly explained how the recommendations of Members of Parliament, to which a certain responsibility attaches, may be accepted as evidence of the respectability of the position and connections of persons who may be candidates for examination; but the House must run away with the notion, that all these appointments are invariably given upon the recommendations of Members of this House. The Government are open to applications from any other persons in respectable situations in life, who may, upon their responsibility, recommend persons as candidates for appointments. I so far concur with my noble Friend, as to think that the principle of competition is better than that of direct and single examination. All human efforts are liable to failure and to defects, and it is quite certain that the principle of competition does not always give you the man who is best fitted for the vacant situation, because there are qualities of character, of habits, and of temperament of mind, which cannot be tested by an examination as to mental attainments only. At the same time there is this to be said, that a young man, who, at the time of life at which candidates present themselves for clerkships, does not possess the knowledge required according to the prescribed plan of education, must be deficient either in natural capacity or in power of mind and application, and in neither case would he be a fit person to hold an appointment under Government. A system of competitive examination does bring out the character of young men, the presence of mind, and the power of application in a short space of time, better than the process of individual and separate examination. On that ground I have adopted in the Treasury, and I have recommended in other departments, a system by which, when an appointment is vacant, instead of nominating one individual, a number of young men are nominated, and the best out of that number is appointed to the vacancy. I think the system of examination has been attended with great advantage to the public service. In former times, for want of such a system, a great many young men were appointed, against whom there was no presumption of incapacity, nor any ground for supposing that they would be incapable of filling higher appointments when, it came to their turn, but who, nevertheless, either by deficiency of natural ability or want of power of application, did not come up to the mark, and the consequence was, that the higher appointments in the public offices were filled by persons who, if there had been any choice in the matter, would not, perhaps, have been placed in situations of such responsibility, and where so much was required from them. I, therefore, augur well for the public interest from the establishment of this system. I certainly concur with my noble Friend, in thinking that the principle of running a number of young men one against the other, and seeing who wins the race, is much better than the walk-over of a single candidate. Upon these grounds, and taking the Motion of the noble Lord upon his own showing, I am not prepared to negative it. Had it not been for the explanation of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which showed to how great a degree this principle has been adopted by the Government, it most have been supposed that this was an attempt on the part of the House of Commons to force on the Government a system to which they were averse. But the explanation of my right hon. Friend proves that we quite go along with my noble Friend in approving the system which his Resolution lays down; and the Resolution, therefore, of my noble Friend will have the effect of strengthening the hands of the Government, and will enable us with a better face to carry out a system of which some persons might otherwise very loudly complain. I trust that it will have the effect of strengthening the hands of the Government, and that, at all events, it will satisfy those who are unsuccessful in the race that the Government are only acting on a system which is founded on a regard for the public interest, and that they are going along with the House of Commons in working out a principle which will enable the Government to obtain the best men for the public service.


said, there had been such an unanimous feeling in favour of his Motion that he only rose to express his best thanks to the Government for the course which they had taken with regard to his Motion. That course was most creditable to the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had detailed to the House what the Government had already done in this matter, and he admitted readily that since he had last brought this subject before the House, a few months ago, the Government had taken several most important steps. The Revenue Department and the Foreign Office had both, to a certain extent, been thrown open to public competition, and there only remained the India Board and the Admiralty in which the principle had not been put into practice, but after the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government accepting his Motion, he could not doubt that the principle would soon be universally adopted. Of course he had not meant by his Motion that every appointment in the public service should be made on this principle, nor did he understand the hon. Gentleman the Member for Boston (Mr. Adams) to have maintained such an absurdity in his able and striking speech. The principle embodied in the Motion being in conformity with the ideas of the Government, he had only to say, that when he laid the Motion before the House he had no means of knowing the steps which had been taken by the Government—some of them, he believed, since he had placed his notice on the paper. The unanimity with which his Motion had been received must be a source of the greatest gratification to everybody interested in the subject.

Motion agreed to. Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, the experience acquired since the issuing of the Order in Council of the 21st day of May, 1855, is in favour of the adoption of the principle of competition as a condition of entrance to the Civil Service, and that the application of that principle ought to be extended, in conformity with the Resolution of the House, agreed to on the 24th day of April, 1856.

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