HC Deb 08 June 1857 vol 145 cc1324-38

was understood to say that, as the Secretary for the Treasury had given notice of his intention to go into Supply on the Civil Service Estimates to-night, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to the last Report of the Civil Service Commissioners, and to the present system of admission to the Civil Service. It would be recollected that last year he submitted a Motion to the House for an Address to the Crown on the subject of competitive examinations, which was adopted upon a division. In consequence of a rule of the House, however, which required that a Motion, involving a charge upon the revenue, should be submitted in Committee, it was necessary to take further proceedings, and the matter was consequently postponed; and when in July last he again brought the question before the House, and moved that Mr. Speaker do leave the chair, the Chancellor of the Exchequer rose and made a statement, which was felt by him (Viscount Goderich) and other hon. Members interested in the question, to be of so satisfactory a nature with regard to the intentions of the Government that he had consented to abandon further proceedings in respect to the Address he had moved, and to leave the matter in the hands of the Government, reserving to himself the full right to bring the question again before the House of Commons, if the Government did not realize the hopes then held out. The Government had not wholly redeemed the pledge which they gave last year, and therefore he now availed himself of the right which he had reserved. It might perhaps be convenient if he stated the principle and objects of the Motion which had been adopted last year. The object of the Address was:—First, to express the thanks of the House to Her Majesty for the adoption of a system of examination for admission to the Civil Service under an Order in Council of May, 1855, and further to convey to Her Majesty the sense of the House that that system would be improved if the principle of competition were extended and more largely applied. It was thought that the principle of open competition should be extended on three grounds. First, because it was calculated to raise the standard and efficiency of persons employed in the Civil Service; secondly, because it would put an end, as far as it was possible, to the system of appointments to the Civil Service being generally made through the influence of Members of that House, which, as the evidence contained in the first Report of the Civil Service Commissioners last year showed, had, before the Order in Council of 1855, worked extremely ill; and, thirdly, because of the effect which the adoption of a system of competitive examination would be likely to have on education in England, for as there was little hope that direct legislation on the subject of education would be adopted by that House, it was believed that such a system would tend more than any other indirect encouragement to raise the standard of education throughout the country. He was sorry to see that the Report of the Civil Service Commissioners did not show that the hopes which had been held out by the Government had been realized. He would state the language used by his right hon. Friend, on the faith of which he had withdrawn his Motion last year. His right hon. Friend said, and truly said, that offices in the Civil Service might be divided into three classes—first, those consisting of clerkships in the principal offices of State; secondly, clerkships in the Revenue Departments, which were not filled up by their heads but by the Secretary of the Treasury; and, thirdly, the lower appointments, such as tidewaiters, postmasters, &c. With regard to each of these classes, his right hon. Friend told the House the intentions of the Government. With regard to the first, he is reported to have said— The plan at present adopted in reference to the superior departments of the Government—such as those of the Secretaries of State and the Treasury, was that, whenever a vacancy occurred, several candidates were selected by the head of the department, and subjected to competitive examination, to determine who was the fittest person to fill the vacancy. That was the language of his right hon. Friend; but the plan had not, as he should show, been generally adopted. With regard to clerkships in the Revenue Department, his right hon. Friend used this language:— There was, besides, an intermediate class, and he very willingly admitted that the principle advocated by his noble Friend had great recommendations in respect to that class, comprising, as it did, many persons in the superior branch of the Revenue Department, and clerks nominated by the Treasury. With respect to the Secretary of the Treasury, that officer not being the head of the department for which his nominations were made, was not interested to the same extent as the head would be in obtaining efficient servants, therefore that class of appointments required some additional security to that which now existed. On the general subject of competition his right hon. Friend had said:— He quite admitted, however, that experience was in favour of the principle recommended by his noble Friend, and it would be the study of the Government, by gradual means, by feeling their way as they advanced, by avoiding those difficulties the existence of which experience might point out, to give as much extension as could with safety and propriety be done to the principle advocated by his noble Friend. He (Lord Goderich) was perfectly content after those assurances to leave the matter in the hands of his right hon. Friend. Having withdrawn his Motion in consequence of that speech, he had looked with great interest at the second Report of the Civil Commissioners, and he rose from it with a feeling of disappointment, for there was no evidence of any advance since last year, when the first Report was published on the subject. He would state what the actual results had been. From the first establishment of the system in May, 1855, down to the 14th of February last, the latest date of the Report, certificates of competency had been granted to 1,906 candidates, 898 upon London examinations, 907 upon provincial examinations, and 101 on reports from heads of departments. The number of certificates refused was 956—namely, 499 upon London examinations, and 457 on provincial examinations, making the admissions to examinations in the proportion of one to three. He would then compare the number of competitive examinations which had taken place in the period from May, 1855, to March, 1856, with the period embraced in the last Report. In the first period there had been a competition for fifty-eight situations, for which 175 candidates competed; while in the latter there had been only fifty-one situations competed for, and 158 candidates contended for them. He had hoped to see that principle of limited competition which had been so successfully adopted by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and to the beneficial results of which he bore last year such satisfactory testimony, extended to other Government offices. At the period of discussion last year that principle had been adopted partially in the Audit-office, in the office of the Chief Secretary of Ireland, in the Education-office, in the Colonial-office, in the Treasury and War departments, and in the office of the Civil Service Commissioners themselves. Since that time it had been extended to only two other departments—it had been adopted partially at the Home-office and entirely in the Public Works-office. No attempt that he could discover had yet been made to introduce it into the departments of the Admiralty, the Exchequer, the Foreign-office, the India Board, the Board of Trade, or the Post-office; and no effort whatever had been made to alter the manner by which the patronage vested in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Mr. Hayter) was distributed. When he withdrew his Motion last year he did not expect that the result of the speech of his right hon. Friend would have been so small. In the Inland Revenue Department there had been 121 candidates, of whom 103 had been examined; of these fifty-six had been successful, and forty-eight had been rejected. In the Customs exactly the same thing had happened, except that the proportion of successful candidates was one in three instead of one in two, while in neither of these departments had there been a single competition for clerkships. He had such confidence in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his intention of carrying out his promises, that he had taken this opportunity of bringing the subject forward, and of asking his right hon. Friend for an explanation, instead of making a direct Motion; and he still hoped that, in spite of the discouraging blue-book which the Civil Service Commissioners had this year laid before Parliament, the system of competition would be more fully introduced into the Government offices. The Civil Service Commissioners had given the strongest evidence in favour of the adoption of a reasonable system of competition, and had shown also that where it had been applied it had been eminently successful. It was sometimes said that the only result of the system would be to introduce into the Civil Service a class of persons who would be above their work. The Commissioners, however, reported most favourably of the merits of gentlemen who had been appointed to clerkships by the method of competition. They had stated, as the result of an examination for four clerkships in their own office, as follows— The facts which we thus bring forward, with relation to the competition for clerkships in this office, are intended to show that if opportunities were more easily and generally afforded than at present to persons to compete for situations of the like character, a highly-instructed class of industrious young men would present themselves as candidates. We must add, in justice to the four gentlemen who received appointments in this office, as the consequence of their success in the competition we have described, that they have passed the period of probation to our entire satisfaction, and have proved themselves to possess aptitude for official duties, and most creditable habits of regularity and industry. And he had no doubt the Secretary for the Colonies, if he spoke in that debate, would say that he had no reason to be dissatisfied with the system he had adopted. The greatest interest was manifested in this subject out of doors, and the greatest desire was felt by the public, as well as by those who were engaged in the work of education, that the system of competition should be more largely adopted. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) asked a question the other night about it in consequence of the large number of letters which he had received. He (Viscount Goderich) had received a letter from Mr. Buckmaster, one of the Society of Arts' examiners of members of mechanics' institutes, in which he stated strongly an opinion that examination for officers in the civil service would raise the standard of education. That gentleman had classes of young men under his care, who attended those classes and educated themselves in the hope of gaining admission to the civil service; and he stated also that the great success of the examinations of the Society of Arts was the result of the Motion made last year, and the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which led to the belief that a system of competition would be largely adopted, and that the persons who were successful at these examinations would be able to make the knowledge they had acquired useful to them in obtaining service under the Crown, As the evidence of the Civil Service Commissioners was in favour of a system of competition, and the feeling of the public was in favour of a similar course, he (Viscount Goderich) felt great confidence that the House would not think he had unnecessarily occupied their time by drawing attention to the subject. He had no desire to urge the Government to adopt hastily any very extended system of this kind; all he urged was that they should not stand still, and, above all, not go back. If the right hon. Gentleman would say that the system adopted in the Colonial-office would be extended to other departments of a similar kind within a reasonable time, and if the Government would, try the experiment of open competition in such offices as clerkships in the Revenue department, they would be able to make that experiment without risk and on a sufficiently large scale. Just to show to what a number of situations that system might be applied, he need only state that since May, 1855, the Secretary to the Treasury had nominated to 240 situations of this kind, making twelve or thirteen a month during nineteen months. Supposing that four or five persons had competed for each of those situations during the time embraced in this calculation, some fifty or sixty persons per month would have been trying to secure them, and the effect of such a competition upon the education of the country it was impossible to overestimate. He had every wish to leave the question in the hands of the Government, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would show him that he would really carry out the system, he would not be inclined to refuse him longer time in which to do it. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman could give no such assurance—if he had been overruled by others, and was unable to persevere in the course he had sketched out, he (Lord Goderich) must reserve to himself the right to appeal from that altered decision on the part of the Government to the opinion of the House of Commons. He trusted, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would relieve him from the necessity of taking any further steps in the present Session of Parliament, and that he would state explicitly what were the intentions of the Government on the subject, so that those persons who were desirous of seeing the system of competition fairly tried might know clearly what they had to expect and to rely on. He begged to add one word to express his high sense of the zeal and ability exhibited by the Civil Service Commissioners in the performance of their duty.


said, that before the right hon. Gentleman answered the question of the noble Lord, he wished to recall to his mind the short conversation which took place between him (Mr. Bass) and the right hon. Gentleman the other afternoon. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman had, in answer to a question he had put, referred him to the Order of Her Majesty and to the first and second Reports of the Civil Service Commissioners; but having carefully perused those documents, he (Mr. Bass) must say that he could not find a single word on the interesting point on which he had put his question. What he desired to know was, who it was that had the power of nominating or recommending such persons as were ultimately selected for examinations for offices in the Civil Service. No explanation was given on that subject in the documents to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred him. If, as he feared, we were in the same condition as formerly with regard to the nomination or recommendation of candidates for the Civil Service, then he thought that neither had the public the opportunity of getting the best servants who could be procured, nor had the most efficient men throughout the country such a reasonable chance of getting employment as their merits entitled them to. The noble Lord had shown that in the last year little progress had been made in the competitive system; but as regarded nominations and recommendations, the House ought to know from the right hon. Gentleman how they were obtained—whether they were obtained as formerly, or whether the public had better access to the public service than was formerly the case.


was glad this subject had fallen into the bands of the noble Lord (Viscount Goderich) who had fully stated the case; but he (Mr. Rich) could not agree with the noble Lord's declaration, that he would rest satisfied with an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this subject would meet with the consideration of the Government. For himself, however, he owned that, highly as he estimated the integrity and the earnestness of his right hon. Friend, yet, looking at the blue-book before the House, he felt there must be some insuperable obstacles in the way of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which prevented him from practically adopting the doctrines which he expressed himself last year as anxious to carry out. He would not quote the language of the Government, in which they pledged themselves to adopt open competition generally in the Inland Revenue, in the Customs, and in the Post Office, and in which they stated their desire that the competition should be shared in by such a number of candidates as would make it a real competition; but he should confine himself to a comparison between the number of competitions which took place in the first six months of 1856, before the pledge had been given by the Government, and the number which took place after the pledge had been given. He found from the blue-book that in the case of 376 vacancies which had occurred last year in clerkships and offices of higher importance sixty-six appointments had been given away on competition, but of that number forty-three had been given in the first six months, and only twenty-three in the last six months of 1856. There were no dates to the 310 appointments which had been given on nomination, so that he could not say which of them had been made before the 1st of July, and which after. It was possible that a greater number of vacancies had occurred in the first six mouths than in the last six months, but he found nothing to induce him to come to such a conclusion. It was clear, however, from the figures he had quoted, that forty per cent, fewer appointments on competition had taken place after the pledge of the Government to promote competition than before. He found, moreover, that in the first six months of last year the average number of persons nominated to compete for each appointment was four and-a-half, while in the last six months the average number was three, and of those three thus nominated only two and a half actually submitted to examination. Could any examinations be properly termed competitive in which an average of only two persons and a fraction contended for an appointment? A stronger fact than either of these was, that out of 210 vacancies which occurred in the Customs in the year 1856, only two were given away upon competition, and for those two places, just two persons competed, and even one of these could not pass. Among the facts recorded in the blue-book he found it stated that in the Civil Service Commissioners Office three clerkships of £100 a year each, rising by an increase of £10 per annum to £200, and another of £200 a year, rising by an increase of £15 per annum to £300 a year, fell vacant. These situations were not submitted to purely open competition, but the Commissioners mentioned the fact of the vacancies to two or three heads of colleges and schools, and to a few persons interested in competitive examinations. In a very short time forty-six gentlemen presented themselves for examination, two of whom were rejected on grounds irrespective of their mental qualifications. The House had been told that the Civil Service was so unpopular that they could not get persons to enter it; but who, he asked, were the forty-four gentlemen who competed for those situations? Several of them were the sons of clergymen, seven or eight were the sons of private gentlemen, three or four were the sons of colonial judges and police magistrates, and the others were the sons of professors and professional men; the whole of them were well educated, twenty-five of them having been educated at Cambridge, Oxford, Trinity College; Dublin, or the London University, while many of the others were studying or had completed their studies at Eton, Durham, the collegiate schools attached to the University of London, at Exeter, at Tunbridge, or other noted educational establishments. Some few of those gentlemen of course failed; but the first twenty proved their ability in ancient and modern history, in ancient and modern languages, in mixed and pure mathematics, and in other matters which showed a sound and liberal education; while the four who succeeded obtained seventy per cent. of the marks, the possession of one hundred of which would indicate perfection, and exhibited great proficiency in Latin and Greek—one in Hebrew—in mixed and pure mathematics, in book-keeping, in ancient and modern history, in short hand, and in other acquirements. With these strong facts before them of unfulfilled pledges on the one hand, and of the easy and successful operation of competition, when honestly undertaken, the House had a right to require from the Government, not an assurance that they would carry out the plan according to the pledge which they had given, but some explanation of what had occurred, for otherwise they must believe that the system, instead of being accelerated, had been retarded. Independently of the important subject which his noble Friend (Lord Goderich) had pressed upon their attention, it was the bounden duty of the Government to keep clear and distinct faith with the House, and to observe every pledge that they made.


said, that some time ago a young gentleman, who was very anxious to submit himself to a competitive examination for a civil appointment, had called upon him and asked him to give him a nomination. He (Mr. Malins) could not understand what necessity there was for a nomination as the examination was open to the whole world, and this he told the young gentleman. "Oh!" said he, "any Member can nominate." He (Mr. Malins) told him that he knew nothing about such a power, but that he conceived that any nomination which he could give him would only amount to a representation on his part that he was a person of respectability. However, he gave to the young gentleman what he called a "nomination." In a few days the young man called on him again, and said that it had been of no use whatever—just as he had expected—and he asked him to ascertain how he was to get a nomination. Now, that was just one of the things that was beyond his (Mr. Malin's) comprehension. He did not understand, then, he never had understood, and he didn't understand now, how to put that young man in the way of getting a nomination. But if these examinations for Civil Service appointments were really competitive—if they were open to all the world, what, he wanted to know, did the "right of nomination" mean? If the nomination, however, were a Government job—if it meant that without Government influence, followed by an examination, no one could be appointed, he could perfectly comprehend the matter. But if such were the case, they had better declare at once that these examinations were not open to all the world, that there was no such thing as competition, that patronage was to be all paramount, and that the highest ability would be of no avail unless accompanied by Government influence. He hoped they should hear that this restriction would be removed, and that those who desired to submit themselves to examination might be able to do so without meeting with those difficulties now thrown in the way.


The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) is so accomplished a lawyer, and is so well acquainted with all the branches of our civil jurisprudence, and is so conversant with all Acts of Parliament, and the whole of our law, that I confess it is highly improbable that I should be able to give him any information on a matter lying so much within his own peculiar knowledge. The Order in Council issued about two years ago, regulating the examinations for admission to the Civil Service, made no alteration in the power of the Crown with respect to nominations for that service. Motions were made, when the Order in Council was issued, proposing that all situations in the Civil Service in the gift of the Crown should be laid open to public competition, and it was explained that such was not the effect of the Order in Council, but that the power of nomination vested in the Crown remained untouched by that Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware that the nomination to places in the Civil Service in the different administrative departments is part of the prerogative of the Crown, as well as the fixing of the amount of salaries, those salaries being subsequently voted by this House. With respect to certain of the principal departments of the Government, such as the offices of the Secretaries of State, the Admiralty, and other chief offices, the immediate nomination is by usage vested in the head of the department. With respect to all other offices, such as those in the revenue departments, the Audit Board, and others similarly situated, the nomination rests with the head of the Government for the time being. That is the usage with respect to the Civil Service, and I confess that I should have thought the hon. and learned Gentleman would not have required any information from me on such a point. This statement, I believe, will also furnish an answer to the question put to me by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass). A few days ago that hon. Gentleman put a question to me, and I referred him—as constituting the best source of information—to the Reports of the Civil Service Commissioners and to the Order in Council on the subject. He would there find that the former law and practice of the country had not undergone any alteration. I have on former occasions expressed my opinion that it would not be desirable, with reference to the efficiency of the Civil Service, that the clerkships and the different subordinate employments in the administrative departments should be thrown open to public competition. The throwing them open was a proposal which at one time was received with favour by the public at large, but the Government, after carefully considering the matter, arrived at the conclusion that such was not an expedient mode of filling up the vacancies in the Civil Service. What they did propose was, that all persons who entered the Civil Service should be subject to examination with the view of testing their efficiency. That examination has been conducted by very competent persons, and the result of the system is embodied in the two Reports on the table of the House. It has been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Mr. Rich) that the course which the Government has pursued has been a retrogressive one, and that they have lost a portion of the advances which they at one time made. I will come presently to the question of competition; but with respect to the execution of the Order in Council in reference to the examinations of candidates for the Civil Service, there has been no retrogression and no flagging, but the system has been enforced with the utmost strictness and regularity, according to the intent and effect of the original order. If hon. Members refer to the statements contained in the Second Report of the Commissioners they will find the number of examinations, and also the number of rejections, which latter in the first year was twenty-nine per cent, and in the second year thirty-eight per cent, showing that the examinations had increased rather than diminished in strictness, and that the system adopted for trying the qualifications of candidates is a real and efficient test. This observation will apply to the whole of the system established by the Order in Council. The Government not only never professed any intention to introduce the system of open competition—that system to which the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford refers, and to which, I presume, the Gentleman who applied to him also referred—but on every occasion on which the question was debated in this House stated in the most distinct manner their objection to that system, and their intention not to give it a trial. It appears to me that the real practical matter at issue between my noble Friend, when he brought forward Motions on the subject, and the Government was—as to what extent the plan of voluntary competition among a limited number of candidates, selected by the heads of Departments, or by the head of the Government, should be carried. That has nothing to do with the question of nomination or recommendation by any hon. Member of this House, or by any member of the Government. What I stated last year, to the best of my recollection, was, that it did not appear to me that the system of competition could be applied with advantage to that class of officers in the Civil Service who performed, for the most part, mere mechanical duties, such as the duties of watching, guarding, and those of trust; that the number of those was considerable; that the difficulty of bringing them all to London, or to some one central place, to be examined, would be very great; and that I did not see any likelihood of advantage resulting from officers of that class being subjected to examination. I also stated that, with respect to clerks and other officers of whom a liberal education was expected, and who had to perform duties which could only be discharged by persons receiving a liberal education, a competitive examination, among a limited number of candidates, chosen by heads of Departments, was, on the whole, most conducive to the public service. I do not know that my noble Friend at the head of the Government could give stronger evidence of his concurrence in that opinion than by conferring all the appointments in the Treasury on that principle, and if the hon. Member refers to the blue-book, he will find that the vacancies have been so filled up, and the result has shown that the principle had worked in the most advantageous manner. With respect to the diminished number of competitive examinations in the last part of the year, I was not aware of that fact, and can only say that it must have arisen from some accidental diminution in the number of vacancies. The real question is, what is the number of offices in which that system is adopted? As far as I know, it is adopted in the Treasury, in the War Department, in the Home Department, and in the Colonial Department. It is also adopted in the Board of Trade. [An hon. MEMBER: Not the Board of Trade.] I may be mistaken. I understand now that it is not adopted in the Board of Trade. Well, it is adopted in the Board of Works, and in three out of the four offices of Secretary of State. I believe also that, on some occasions, it is adopted by the Admiralty. This statement shows that the heads of Departments have voluntarily adopted that principle in filling up vacancies. My noble Friend at the head of the Government, looking to the short time during which the system had been in existence, had not felt himself justified by a mere act of the executive Government to make it compulsory on the heads of Departments to follow this system, but it has been recommended by the practice of the Treasury, and a majority of the other superior Departments. I can only repeat my belief that this mode of filling up vacancies will give you the choice of candidates best qualified for the public service, and most likely to discharge their duties in a satisfactory manner. I regret that it is not in my power to state that the Government, at the present moment, have any further intentions than to express an opinion in favour of that system. I can not say that they intend to lay down any inflexible rule on the subject, to depart from the present frame of the Order in Council, or to render it necessary that there shall, in any instance, be competitive examinations when the head of the Department himself entertains objections to that course. I trust, however, that on the whole, the manner in which these appointments have been filled up has been satisfactory as regards the efficiency of the public service; and, for my own part, taking a general view of the subject, I have come to the conclusion that a great and important progress has been made with regard to the admission of persons to the service of the State, and that we have entered upon a course which will tend in its results to increase the efficiency of the public service.


said, that he wished, as one who had taken considerable interest in the subject, to express his thorough conviction that, if the Government were earnest and sincere in their desire to promote the intellectual advancement of the middle and lower classes, they ought to place at the disposal of the public a certain portion of the patronage of the heads of Departments, or allot to the examiners of the society of Arts or other trustworthy bodies, some of the minor offices. The system of examination after nomination confined the competition to a very small and selected circle, and consequently it did not become generally known that any such competition was going on, and thus the proposed system became perfectly ineffective in its operation. It was absurd to say that the smallness of the salaries—£50, £60, or £100 a year—would limit the number of competitors, for he had had opportunities of knowing cases in which salaries of no greater amount had been competed for by lieutenant colonels on half pay, so that it was not probable that there would be any dearth of competitors on account of the lowness of the salaries.


wished to know on what ground persons were nominated to compete for these positions?


Upon the ground of efficiency.