HC Deb 02 April 1869 vol 195 cc31-41

said, he rose to call attention to the Treasury Minute, dated November 30, 1868, stating that— Promotion by merit is the established rule in the Civil Service, and to every young man who becomes the servant of the Crown in the Civil Service, a way is opened to independence and even eminence, in reference to the recent appointment of the Deputy Master and Comptroller of the Mint. He had not brought this subject forward with the view of com- plaining of an individual grievance. The question he wanted to raise was a broad one, and one of great public interest. That question was, whether in the Civil Service they were to have promotion by merit or promotion by favouritism; whether that admirable Treasury Minute which he had just read was to be obeyed and enforced, or to be trampled upon and defied; whether, in short, the higher appointments in the Civil Service were to be looked upon as the perquisites of the leading Statesmen of the day, to be given by them to their private friends and dependents, as a reward for services to themselves, or whether they were to be filled by the most competent men that could be found to take them, and wherever it was possible were to be given as rewards of long and faithful and efficient service in more subordinate positions. That was the question he wished to bring before the House. He regarded the particular case to which he should refer as a mere illustration, and he might say at once that he had not the slightest personal interest of any sort or kind in the matter. Till yesterday he had been wholly unacquainted with the gentleman whose just claims had, in his opinion, been so rudely set aside; but it happened that all the circumstances became known to him (Mr. Buxton), and he thought that, however disagreeable the task might be, he ought not to shrink from inviting the attention of the House and of the country to this case, in hopes that thereby a stop might be put to what was, he owned, a very common but not the less mischievous interference with the proper course of promotion. He was anxious at the same time to observe that he had no intention of casting the smallest possible slur on the young gentleman who had received that appointment. Nothing, it appeared to him, could be more absurd than to blame the person who was appointed to an office for having accepted it. The blame, if blame there were, rested altogether on those who gave it to him. It would be ridiculous to expect him to go through the process of weighing his own claims against those of others, and deciding against himself. No responsibility, therefore, could rest with the young gentleman to whom he had alluded. But he would undertake to show that the office in question was one singularly requiring a long training and ex- perience, and that there was a public servant in every respect suited for it, and who had a peculiarly strong claim to receive it, but that he was thrown aside and the place given away to a gentleman who had no claim at all upon the public, but only on the late First Minister of the Crown personally, and who was absolutely without that technical knowledge and experience which in this case were necessary for the satisfactory discharge of the duties. He must now trouble the House with a statement of what those duties were. They were extremely multifarious, but he would only mention a few of them. In the first place, the Deputy Master had to see that the various operations of melting and coining were carried on with efficiency and without material loss to the public—a point of great importance and absolutely requiring long training. Again, he had to see that the money was properly coined and issued to the public with accuracy as regarded both weight and fineness. Again, as Comptroller he had to take charge of, and become responsible for, all the bullion brought into the Mint for coinage, and it rested with him to issue all moneys to the public. He had to calculate the value of the bullion, and see at all times that the public interest was taken care of. He had to compute the seignorage on the silver and bronze coinage and pay over the proceeds to the Consolidated Fund. He had to supervise the account for the Mint office, and generally to keep a check on expenditure. He had to take charge of the coined pieces reserved for the general trial of the pyx; he had to see that the dies were kept in safe custody, and when worn out destroyed, as a safeguard against a surreptitious use of them. And, further, whenever the Master of the Mint was absent, the Deputy had to fill his place, and ought, therefore, to have been familiar with the whole management of the business of that important Department. The House could hardly fail to agree with him that this, then, was peculiarly a case in which it would have been right to advance a trained officer to this place, unless, indeed, there were some grounds for doubting his abilities. So far from that, there was a gentleman in the Mint of great experience, of high character, to whose efficiency the strongest testimony was borne by Sir John Herschel and. others, and who actually had waived his claim to another office on a previous occasion upon the understanding that when this one should become vacant it would probably be placed at his disposal. He referred to Mr. Robert Mushet, the senior officer in the Mint-office, who had been at the head of the melting department for seventeen years, and had for thirty-six years been in the service of the Government. In 1851, when the Mint was reformed, several of the officers were much injured in their interests by the alterations then effected, and among them Mr. Mushet; but it was intimated that, as some compensation for the loss of these prospects, their claims for advancement would be duly considered when vacancies should occur in the higher offices. Of course, he should not for a moment say if Mr. Mushet was in any way incompetent that then he ought to have been employed; but very strong testimony to his competence was borne by him who, of all men, was fittest to judge of it—by Sir John Herschel. Sir John Herschel wrote to Mr. Mushet in September, 1868, to say that he had been informed that Mr. Mushet's claims to succeed Mr. Barton as Deputy Master and Comptroller of the Mint had been approvingly submitted to the consideration of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury by the present Master of the Mint; and Sir John Herschel added— This being the case, it appears to me no move than due that I should supplement whatever testimony he may have borne to your merits, conduct, and qualifications grounded on his experience, by my own as to your uniform efficiency, exactness, and devotion to your duties in the very responsible office you have filled since 1851, during my tenure of the Mastership. And Sir John Herschel went on to say that, in addition, he considered that Mr. Mushet had a claim to promotion founded on the destruction by the reform of the Mint of his prospect of succeeding to a much more lucrative position than his present one. This, then, was undeniable, that the duties of the office were highly important, that they were of a peculiarly technical character, requiring thorough training and long experience in the Mint. It was equally undeniable that a thoroughly suitable man was there at hand, a man of great experience, a man who had very strong claims both on account of his acknowledged efficiency, his long service, and his acquiescence in the loss of still better prospects upon this understanding, that he was some day to be rewarded with this appointment. He (Mr. Buxton) could not imagine that any case could be a clearer one for the advancement of the subordinate to the place which he had so well earned. Well, what was actually done? Mr. Barton, the late Deputy Master of the Mint, having died last September, application was immediately made, supported, as he said before, by the Master of the Mint and by the late Master Sir John Herschel, on behalf of Mr. Mushet. No reply, however, was received; and the place was kept unoccupied for three months until the very eve of the retirement of the late Government from Office, and it was then given to a young gentleman, against whom he had not a word to say, but who had never set his foot in the Mint, and had no claim but that of having performed private services to the late Prime Minister. It was strange that just before this was done the Treasury Minute was issued, which stated positively that— Promotion by merit is the established rule in the service, and to every young man who becomes the servant of the Crown in the Civil Service a way is opened to independence, and even eminence. That Minute was intended to give a powerful stimulus to the Civil Service, by holding out definitely to the young men engaged in it that in future they might, by strenuous diligence, attain to positions of dignity; but the Minute would, of course, now be regarded as a simple mockery of those to whom it had been addressed. It was little less than an insult to use all these fine phrases to them when, on the very first occasion on which the rule could have been acted upon, it was treated with contempt by the very Government that had laid it down. Depend upon it a very few instances of that sort would be quite enough to damp the spirits, to sour the feelings, of the whole Civil Service. Nothing could do so much to invigorate the Civil Service as the hope amongst those engaged in it that they might in due time raise themselves by their diligence and efficiency to those higher posts that glittered above them. Nothing, on the other hand, could do so much to demoralize the Civil Service as the feeling that no matter how long, how faithful, how efficient their service may have been, yet at the last moment the prizes for which they had laboured might be snatched from them and thrown to some private connection of some great man, for whom a snug berth was wanted. He would only add his hope that in bringing this subject forward he should not have seemed to be guilty of any want of that respect which was so eminently due from every Member of this House to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). He certainly had not been actuated in the smallest degree by any party feeling, or by any personal interest; but when these facts came under his notice he thought that it would be something like cowardice if he shrank from the task, however disagreeable it might be, of bringing the question under the consideration of the House.


The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Buxton), entertaining the views he has expressed, is quite justified in bringing this matter before the House, but I am bound to tell the hon. Member that his observations really are a series of misapprehensions. He has very properly noticed the Treasury Minute of last November, and I am the last person not to stand by that Minute,—for which, indeed I am responsible, and which I approve in every particular; but in referring to that Treasury Minute the hon. Member should have pointed out to the House what was its leading subject, and should have explained that the passage he has quoted is only an incidental passage, though it expresses a sentiment in the soundness of which I entirely agree, that a career should always be open to real merit in the Civil Service. But the hon. Gentleman seems to have made the mistake of concluding that a career for real merit is to be insured only by sanctioning the claims of routine. In my mind that is a great error, and such a course would be far from being in agreement with the sentiments and views which influenced the drawing up of the Minute of November. The first misapprehension of the hon. Member consisted in supposing that the individual who was appointed to the Deputy Mastership of the Mint was not a member of the Civil Service. He is, on the contrary, an eminent member of that body. He. entered it in his boyhood, and during the period which has elapsed since has much distinguished himself. Therefore, all that groundwork of the hon. Gentleman's observations falls to pieces immediately; and if I show that the gentleman preferred to this post deserves to be so preferred, then all the argument of the hon. Gentleman that the claims of the Civil Service have not been recognized also falls to the ground. The next misapprehension on the part of the hon. Gentleman consists in supposing that the gentleman was appointed because he was, as the hon. Member describes him, "my political follower." When my conduct in so grave a matter as an appointment to a public post is involved, the House will, perhaps, permit me to enter into some details, which I will do as briefly as possible. It cannot, for a moment, be maintained that because this gentleman happened to be my private secretary he was my political follower. When a man holds at the same time the Office of Minister of the Crown and Leader of this House, he has the privilege of appointing two private secretaries; and properly so, for a Minister of the Crown, being also Leader of this House, has quite business enough for two private secretaries to transact. It is also the custom—but only a custom, though a wise one—that one of these private secretaries should be appointed from the office of which the Minister is the chief, and that appointment is made without reference to politics. I appointed, as one of my private secretaries a private friend; and with respect to the private secretary who was to be selected from the office, I did not make any immediate appointment. I wished that, what I may call the public opinion of the Treasury, should be consulted upon the matter, and I think a fortnight elapsed before I at length selected the gentleman who, according to the general voice of the members of the Treasury, was the most competent person for the post. Until that gentleman came into my room as my private secretary, I had not the honour of his acquaintance. What his political opinions are I did not then know, and, upon my honour, I do not know now. For six years he served as private secretary the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Brand), who occupied, under the Governments of Lord Russell and Lord Palmerston, a very confidential and important office. I have no doubt that that right hon. Gentleman in appointing him did not inquire into his political opinions any more than I did, and I am sure that Mr. Fremantle served him with the same ability and faithfulnesss with which he served me. The hon. Member for East Surrey, therefore has fallen into two misapprehensions—first, in supposing that the claims of the Civil Service have been passed | over, and secondly, in fancying that I, | in appointing Mr. Fremantle to the office of Deputy Master of the Mint, was influenced in that act by a desire to appoint a political follower. I will now mention what really occurred. I will say that I never made a public appointment without wishing to place the best man in the post. It would have been most agreeable if I could have conscientiously preferred to the post now in question some political adherent or friend of my own, but before I made the appointment I entered into inquiries as to the nature of the duties of the office which I had to fill up. The result of those inquiries led to the conclusion that the general condition of the Mint was not a satisfactory one. It is a Department in a position of peculiar isolation, having very little connection with the great offices of administration, and there did appear to me to be a want of that official energy and that administrative skill which are, in the present day, absolutely necessary, and which ought always to be encouraged. Besides, it was placed before me, by those who ought to influence my opinion on such a matter, that it was of great importance that "new blood"—to use their expression—should be introduced into the office, and that a man by no means advanced in life, and who had had considerable experience in some great administrative Department—a Member of the Treasury, if possible—should be appointed. That being the case, I declared, after the representations made to me, that I should not make anything like a political appointment, and that I felt it my duty to select for the post the most competent person. With regard to Mr. Fremantle, I have no hesitation in saying that I regretted the decision he arrived at to leave the Treasury. That Department is at present in a most efficient state. The chief clerks of the establishment are, of course, men of great experience and abilities; but there is also a class of younger men rising in that Department, highly distinguished by their abilities and devotion to public business. For the sake of the Treasury, I should be glad that these young men, all distinguished members of the Civil Service, should remain in that Department; but it would be rather a severe rule to lay down that these men, because they are so distinguished, should be shut out from these fair prizes which occasionally offer in the distribution of offices in the Civil Service. I did not decide hurriedly in the matter. Every claim was well weighed. The claims of the gentleman whom the hon. Member for East Surrey seems to think had been very much neglected were, I can assure him, duly considered. They were placed before me by the gentleman himself. He did full justice to his own claims. He is a very respectable man—a man of sufficient ability to place his claims in a telling and efficient manner before a Government; and they were impartially and anxiously considered. But my own opinion was that it was of great importance that fresh blood should be introduced into the office, and I did think if a gentleman from the Treasury were appointed it would be to the public advantage. The names of two or three gentlemen were considered, and ultimately Mr. Fremantle was appointed. Now, Sir, I have shown that the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Surrey was under a complete misapprehension in supposing that the legitimate claims of the Civil Service have been neglected, because Mr. Fremantle was a member of the Civil Service, and occupied so eminent a position in it that I did not think that, in a pecuniary point of view, his acceptance of the office would be to his advantage, losing, as he did, a considerable post in the Treasury. Secondly, I have shown that the hon. Gentleman was under another misapprehension in supposing that Mr. Fremantle was appointed to the office because he was a political adherent of my own. I acted, of course, entirely on my own responsibility, but after sedulous inquiry and on representations made to me by persons of position, that it was of importance that new blood should be infused into the Mint, and that, if possible, an officer should be appointed, experienced in Treasury business. It was not my intention to have made the slightest allusion to the Master of the Mint, whose name has, I think, unnecessarily been introduced by the hon. Member for East Surrey. The Master of the Mint is not a politician. He is an able and excellent officer. Everybody respects him, and he performs his duty with efficiency. I think nothing more unfair, even if guided by the head of a Department, to introduce his name in defence or vindication of any decision you have made on your own entire responsibility. Nothing, I repeat, was further from my intention than to name the present Master of the Mint; but I received a letter from him last evening conceived and written in a generous spirit, which he empowers me to read to the House if I like. I think, on the whole, I must decline that; but I may state thus publicly to the House that I have the authority of the Master of the Mint for saying that he entirely approves the appointment of Mr. Fremantle as Deputy Master of the Mint, and that he augurs from that appointment advantage to the public service.


Sir, I think it only right on the part of the Government that I should say one word before this conversation closes. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey has been entirely vindicated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite for having, on what appeared to him good primâ facie grounds, challenged this appointment; and he has drawn from the right hon. Gentleman a full explanation of the circumstances. I confess, for my own part, I think that great advantage must result from Members of Parliament, as occasions arise, raising questions as to the mode in which Government may exercise their patronage, particularly when that is done, as it has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey to-night, without any private interest in view and solely on grounds of advantage to the public service. While, therefore, it is clear from what the right hon. Gentleman has stated that no possible blame can attach to my hon. Friend—on the contrary, we feel obliged to him, for drawing attention to the subject—I am bound in fairness to say that I think the answer made by the right hon. Gentleman is and must be felt to be quite satisfactory. This appointment was, I think, both conscientiously and deliberately made; and it is only fair to say that the Treasury, in its capacity not so much as a political Department, but merely as an administrative Department, did before any appointment was made investigate the question whether this was an office fit to be filled by promotion from the Department, or whether it would; not be more politic to fill it by the selection of some competent person from some other quarter. There is great truth, I think, in what has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman, that the Mint is a peculiarly isolated office. Requiring a good deal of technical know-ledge, it is apt to assume that character. In making the selection of a competent person from another Department no charge is made against it; but, from the fact of its being an isolated Department, it is desirable from time to time to introduce into it gentlemen whose experience has been acquired in other though kindred Departments. I may add to what has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman, that he is not the first person who has made an appointment to this very office from another Department because when the Mint was re-organized and a Deputy Master was appointed the office was filled, not by a selection from the Department, but by the choice of Captain Harness, a gentleman of great abilities, but whose experience was not acquired in the Mint. Therefore, Sir, I repeat, I am perfectly satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman's motives and proceedings in this matter.