§ MR. W. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
rose to move—That it is desirable to recruit the First Division of the Civil Service by promotion from the Second Division.In submitting the Motion he said he did not represent a Civil Service constituency, nor was he aware that any such constituency existed, but he and those hon. Members who had promised to support the Motion were actuated only by adherence to the principle of general utility which ought to be the mainspring of political action both inside and outside the House. It was strenuously asserted that the written promises and implied contracts between the Government and the Civil servants had not been fairly carried out, and if any reasonable doubt remained at the present time as to 920 the conditions of engagement and promises, surely the time had come when a clear and definite understanding should be arrived at. This great branch of the Public Service for which he spoke ought not to be conducted on haphazard chances or in irregular proceedings such as undoubtedly had occurred in the promotion and changes since 1870, when the pernicious system of patronage was abolished and open competition introduced instead. A quarter of a century ought to be a sufficient period of time for successive Governments to have made up their minds as to the best plan of governing the Civil Service. He had brought forward this Motion in consequence of attending an enthusiastic meeting in Exeter Hall, and he took up the question entirely on its merits. The fact of such a meeting being held showed that the gentlemen concerned were not afraid to appeal to public opinion; yet, at the same time, he thought that matters of that kind could He carried too far. But public opinion should be the breath of the law; and if the Government sought to evade discussion of the points which would be raised in this Debate, then he submitted they must have a case which would not bear discussion. At the meeting to which he referred the Member for South Islington was in the Chair, about two dozen Members of this House of different Parties were present, and co-operated in ventilating the grievances of the Civil servants, whilst many apologies were received from other Members, and also from Civil servants from all parts, who, while regretting their inability to attend, expressed their sympathy with the objects of the meeting. He should mention that the meeting invited analytical examination of the complaints put forward. In view of such a great demonstration, and the importance of the interests involved, the matter could not be lightly minimised by the Government officials who were concerned. This was a great question concerning the administration of the country; it was a matter of Imperial magnitude, and if ignored might tend to impair the efficiency of the administration in the most important Departments charged with responsibility. The Service should be contented and satisfied to be completely efficient, and this satisfaction 921 could be easily accomplished, as the claims of the Second Division were founded on justice and reason. The first resolution at the meeting protested against the unfair treatment which had been accorded to the Second Division by the permanent authorities, who, notwithstanding the recommendations of the Ridley Commission, and repeated promises of the Treasury both in and out of Parliament, persistently ignored the claims of the Second Division to promotion to the First Division, filling such appointments from without instead of by promotion from within the Service: whilst the second resolution protested against the delay of the Treasury in dealing with the other points referred to in the Memorial of last year. The contention of the Second Division clerks was not for more money, but they asked that the conditions under which they entered the Service should be faithfully observed, and they were able to advance claims to show that the highest posts now given to young untrained men outside ought to be given to the trained officials who were in the Public, Service. The House of Commons had been most reluctantly chosen as the tribunal of appeal. Memorials sent through the usual official channels to the Treasury praying for redress had remained unanswered, and, therefore, it had become necessary to appeal to Parliament, as no other channel remained open to the gentlemen of the Second Division, numbering 3,500—and whose numbers would probably be augmented to 5,000 in a few years—and to respectfully submit and urge that the requisition placed in the hands of each candidate for a Second Division clerkship, stating that under certain circumstances he might look for promotion after eight years' service, should be adhered to. They maintained that this condition had not been loyally or justly carried out. In a Treasury Letter of the 19th June, 1884, dealing with the question of the number of Second Division Clerks promoted to the First Division, the Lords of the Treasury stated—Although the number of Second Division clerks promoted to the First Division must always bear a small proportion to the number not so promoted, it is not necessary that they should be an insignificant proportion to the First Division. On the contrary, my Lords look forward to that Division being largely replenished in certain Departments from the best 922 members of the Second Division. It will probably always be necessary to reserve a power of direct appointment to the First Division; but there are many Departments in which this power need not, so far as my Lords can foresee, be exercised habitually or even frequently. Promotion from the Second to the First Division may therefore fairly be considered as a legitimate aspiration for the superior members of the former.He contended that that, to a certain extent, proved the case he had laid down. Again, it could not be asserted that there was an insufficient number of eligible second-class men to furnish the necessary recruits for the First Division. The Ridley Commission reported very highly of their ability, and one member of that Commission, the hon. Member for Preston, declared that they were of as good stuff as any of the First Division, whilst the examiners and heads of Departments bore eloquent testimony to their ability. On the 6th of February of last year the Secretary for War, in reply to a question, admitted that in his Office he had men fit for promotion, but said that a compact between the Treasury and the War Office prevented this promotion. He would like to know if there was any reason to believe there was a similar compact in force throughout the Civil Service where the heads of the Departments had made recommendations for promotion which, as a result of unwritten negotiations, had been for some time withdrawn? The Secretary to the Treasury would probably reply that a large number of promotions had been made from the Second Division. A Return was rendered in February last which showed that some 109 promotions were made to the First Division, and to the intermediate division between that and the Second Division. But was it fair to term them the First Division promotions when a large number were really not to the First Division? He would like the right hon. Gentleman to say what promotions had been given to the Second Division in the Treasury itself, in the War, the Colonial, Home, Foreign, Education, Charity Commissioners, and Post Office Departments. He would also like to know the number of direct appointments from the outside to the First Division since the Report of the Ridley Commission. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman stated on the 18th December last that, while there had been only three promotions from the 923 Second Division to the First Division since the date of the Ridley Commission Report, 19 had been appointed from outside. He was informed that that was not the entire truth, but that 56, and not 19, such direct appointments had been made. Nineteen of these had been admitted into Class 1. under examination, leaving 37 which had not been accounted for. The Second Division clerks contended that every class of superior clerkship was regarded by them as their natural inheritance, and they further submitted that every young untrained man who entered by such means as those to which he had reverted filled up a place which ought to be occupied by themselves, who had been trained in the business of their own Departments. The Ridley Commission declared that it was unnecessary to bring in young men into Class I., and in their Second Report they stated—We think the doors of promotion to all the upper posts should be open to any clerk who shows that he possesses the necessary qualifications for discharging the duties of the position.That was a recommendation which, coming from such a quarter, was deserving of serious consideration. The Commissioners further stated that the prizes of the Service should be open to exceptional fitness, and they advised that some definite and clear scheme of promotion should be formulated. Probably, at some times it might be possible that a gentleman could not be found in one particular office to suit the appointment vacant, but surely out of 3,500 gentlemen an efficient and capable officer could be found without bringing in outsiders. In the various ranks of the Second Division there were men fit to occupy the highest positions in the Service, whilst most of the eminent men who now filled with the utmost ability the various responsible positions under the Crown were those who had climbed from the lowest to the highest rung of the ladder. This was not a Party question, but a question of the efficiency of the Public Service of this great Empire, which was deserving of the most careful consideration. He hoped he should receive a sympathetic as well as a definite and clear statement of what would be done with regard to these promotions in the future, or other- 924 wise he should be compelled to press the matter to a Division.
§ * CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
seconded the Motion from the firm conviction that it was undesirable in the interest of the country that a large body of public servants, numbering some 3,500, and who would probably eventually number 5,000, should continue to perform their duties while feeling upon the one hand aggrieved, and upon the other hand filled with chronic discontent. It might be asked whether he, having for a number of years served where great weight was attached to discipline, thought it desirable in the interests of the public that certain bodies in the Public Service should combine for the purpose of bringing their grievances to the House. As a broad rule he did not; but when he found that a body of public servants had their Memorials unceremoniously consigned to the waste-paper basket, without the common courtesy of a reply; when he found they had been refused permission to approach the heads of Departments by means of deputations, and had had recourse to the columns of the public Press, and that none of these courses had procured the smallest redress, then he was prepared to exonerate them completely from any desire to overthrow discipline when they came to this House as the final Court of Appeal. What was the demand of the Second Division clerks? It was not a demand for higher salaries or shorter hours, but a demand for fair play. It was a demand that the conditions under which they entered the Public Service should be neither minimised nor misconstrued, but loyally adhered to, and they further demanded that the recommendations contained in the Report of the Ridley Commission should be faithfully carried out. It was acknowledged that when each candidate for a clerkship in the Second Division presented himself for examination a paper was passed into his hands which left the impression upon his mind—and which it was shown was the impression the Government intended to convey—that if to continued industry and uprightness of character he added a certain amount of ability superior to that of the other clerks he might reasonably hope at the expiration of eight years to be promoted to the First Division. How had successive Adminis- 925 trations dealt with the Second Division clerks, who had been led to believe that the First Division should be largely replenished from the Second? It was said that 107 appointments had been made from the Second Division to the First, or to posts higher than the Second, but when investigated they were found to be promotions only in name. It was admitted, in reply to a question in this House, that only three promotions had been made from the Second Class to the First, whereas 19 promotions had been made from the outside, and this was not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As a matter of fact, 56 promotions were made from the outside by means of first-class examinations and other methods, and the Second Class clerks considered themselves aggrieved in this matter, because they looked upon all promotions which were made from the outside—that was, when inexperienced, untried, and untrained men were brought into the Service over their heads—as an infringement of their legitimate rights. The right hon. Gentleman would perhaps tell them what promotions had been made in all the great Public Offices since the recommendations of the Ridley Commission. No excuse could be made that the Second Division did not produce a sufficient number of men suited for promotion, because, as the Member for Dublin had pointed out, the Secretary for War had admitted that in his Department there were men suitable for promotion, but that he was unable to carry out the contract owing to an arrangement which had been agreed upon between the Treasury and the War Office. To him, as a Radical, there would seem to be something of a social question at the bottom of this, and as if it was a case of birth and not worth, or rather of money, for, after all, to a great extent, a University education and high educational examinations meant a case of money and not brains. The fact that many of the men who came up for the examinations of the First Class Division were University graduates had been dwelt upon, but as a matter of fact there were many University graduates among the Second Division clerks, and graduates, too, of a University whose curriculum for the pass degree was higher than any other— namely, the University of London. The 926 question of competitive examinations had been spoken of. Familiar as he was with University and many other forms of examination he should not attempt to belittle examinations. Competitive examinations were excellent tests as compared with favouritism and similar methods. They were the best test known for untried, untrained, and inexperienced men, but were a very poor test as compared with the test of a man having performed satisfactorily for many years the very duties which these candidates were about to learn. It was asked why did not the Second Division clerks present themselves for examination? Many of them, for the very cogent reason that they were already beyond the age limit. Was it fair to expect that a public servant, after toiling for years at seven hours each day, could enter a competitive examination on anything like equal terms with a young man fresh from a University, and having every hour of the day practically at his own disposal? It was demanding a double test from the Second Division clerks. It was as if the Military Authorities were to tell a man who had entered the ranks, and by long service, good conduct, and practical experience in the various duties of the profession, had worked his way up through the noncommissioned grades, and had arrived at the point to be promoted to a commission, that he should compete in the complicated and difficult examination demanded of candidates from Sandhurst. It was unfair to ask the Second Division clerks to perform their duties on the one hand, and to prepare for the examination on the other. He regretted to say that there was a tendency recently to take the Second Division men off the first-class work and put them on the lower work, and when their turn came for promotion to tell them they were not fit to perform the work which they had been performing when First Division clerks were absent. That was scarcely straightforward treatment; indeed, he might say it was a subterfuge. Again, it was not an uncommon thing for the heads of the Departments when they found an aspiring, zealous, and superior young man to recommend him for promotion. But the heads of the Departments knew that in doing that they were taking part in a screaming farce, because the recommendation was not worth the paper it was 927 written on, for, as the Secretary for War had said, there were many men in the Department fit for promotion, but he was not able to promote them owing to the fact that an arrangement existed between the Treasury and the War Office.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
was understood to say that the Treasury had made concessions to the Second Division clerks in the matter of promotion.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
said, that what the right hon. Gentleman had said was true, and yet was not true. The Second Division clerks had been given to understand that they would be promoted to the First Division, and then the First Division was largely reduced without any adequate compensation been given to the Second Class clerks. All the Second Class clerks had had from the Treasury was their sympathy. That sympathy was a very valuable thing, no doubt, but the Second Class clerks would appreciate it more if it showed itself in providing a certain number of promotions. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) once said that the Ridley Commission recommended that the gulf which divided the First Division from the Second Division should be bridged over. But ever since the Ridley Commission the Government had been doing everything to widen the gulf. They heard a great deal about legitimate aspirations. It was said that every Second Division clerk on entering the Service carried in his knapsack the proverbial Marshal's baton; but when he placed his foot on the first rung of the ladder of promotion new, raw recruits, who enlisted under different conditions, jostled him out of his place. The Government should understand in this matter that honesty was the best policy. Some time ago it was the custom to capture recruits for the Military Service by representing that they would be paid 1s. per day, but the recruits soon found out there were so many arbitrary deductions from the 1s. that they did not get half the sum. The result was a falling-off in recruits. But, latterly, the authorities had modified their system of deception with very good results. Surely, the Government must know that they could no more succeed in deceiving the Civil servant than the soldier. He 928 would call upon the Government to act up to their pledges, and discontinue the present system which was crushing all hope out of the hearts of the Second Division clerks, by bringing in over their heads those untried and untrained men. There were two courses open to the Government. They could either revert to the original system under which all started at scratch and even weights, instead of some, as now, being handicapped to such a degree that they were practically weighted off the course of promotion. The old system had given the best officials the country could desire. Under it, the heads of Departments entered the Service by one single channel, and worked their way up from the bottom to the top. But if the Government did not revert to the old system, they could settle the matter by giving the Second Division clerks a certain proportion of the promotions— say one-half; and undertaking that, in the event of it being considered necessary to farther reduce the First Division, adequate compensation would be given to the Second Division clerks for having their chances of promotion damaged. Until some such course was followed by the Government great discontent would continue in the Service; and it was on account of that firm conviction that he called upon the Government, in the interests of justice, efficiency, and economy, to deal fairly and honestly with the Second Division clerks.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words,
It is desirable to recruit the First Division of the Civil Service by promotion from the Second Division,"—(Mr. Field,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ * THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Sir J. T. HIBBERT,) Oldham
In rising to reply to the observations made by the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution, I do not wish to find fault with them in any way for the mode in which they have brought forward the question, because I admit readily that the Second Division clerks have long had what they consider to be a grievance. 929 We heard of it in this House last year. We know that they have given utterance to it at meetings in Exeter Hall, and they have brought it before many Members of Parliament. I will not say that they had no right to attempt to influence Members in their favour, but I think it very doubtful whether their attempts should have been as vigorous as they have been I do not refer to the Second Division clerks only, bill also to other persons who are in the employment of the Government and who use their influence on Members of Parliament with the object of getting their demands brought before the House of Commons when they might have their cases treated in another and more satisfactory way. I will say at once that the Treasury have attempted to act, in connection with the Second Division clerks and the question of their promotion, in a straightforward and honest manner. From the first the Department have thought it their duty to follow strictly the recommendations of the Playfair and Ridley Commissions, and I think I shall be able to show that the grievances said to exist are not such as has been alleged by the two hon. Members. The Playfair Commission recommended that there should be two Divisions—the Higher Division and the Lower Division. I will read an extract from their Report—the amount of simple routine work in the bulk of Public Offices is very great in proportion to the amount of work of a higher class. The mechanical and monotonous labour on which clerks must, under such circumstances, be so long and continuously employed, in offices where no division or an inadequate division of labour exists, does not by any means, as a matter of course, fit them for discharging the duties of those higher posts in the Service which involve responsibility, discretion, and power to direct work, and to deal with the outside public in such a manner as to uphold the credit and efficiency of their Department.To carry out this division of work it was necessary that there should be—two separate and distinct schemes of examination for admission to the Public Service, and two separate and distinct grades of clerks.Then I come to the question of promotion. From what has fallen from the Seconder of the Resolution it would be thought that the Second Division clerks had a perfect claim to promotion into the Higher Division. That is not so at all. The Ridley Commission recommended that 930 clerks might be promoted from the Second Division to the higher, but that such promotions should be exceptional and not the rule. This Motion would be contrary to that recommendation. It would make promotion the rule, and not the exception. The Playfair Commission had laid stress upon the necessity of strict division of labour between the higher and lower ranks in the passage which I have already quoted, The Ridley Commission, in like manner, considered that the routine work of the Second Division was not work that fitted every man in that Second Division for undertaking the duties of a First Division clerk, and they expressed the following emphatic opinion:—We have no doubt that it will always be necessary to introduce a very limited number of men by means of a higher examination, to fill directly some of the more important posts of the Public Service. We think it an object of the most serious importance that men of the same standard of liberal education as those who now adopt the open professions should he attracted into the Public Service and trained there, for selection for the highest permanent posts.
§ * SIR A. ROLLIT
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the words he has read do not mean, not that every Second Division clerk is unlit for the First Division, as he has wrongly implied, but that there are certain high and responsible positions, in which orders and directions are given, which might be otherwise filled?
§ SIR J. T. HIBBERT
I did not say that there were not clerks in the Second Division lit for the higher work.
§ SIR J. T. HIBBERT
I wish now to draw attention to the difference in the competitive examinations for entry into the two divisions of clerks. The competition for the Second Division consists of ten subjects—handwriting, orthography, arithmetic, copying MS. (to test accuracy), English composition, geography, indexing or docketing, digesting returns into summaries, English history, and book-keeping. The examination for entry into the First Division is very much wider. It consists of 13 heads of subjects—English composition (including précis-writing), History of England (including that of the Laws and Constitution), English language and literature, Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian 931 languages, literature, and history, Mathematics (pure and mixed), Natural Sciences, Moral Sciences—that is, logic, mental and moral philosophy, Jurisprudence, and Political Economy. That shows a difference in the examinations for the two classes. No doubt many men who enter the Second Division are competent to undertake the work of an Upper Division clerkship. Many of them are University men, and many are members of the London University, where the standard is very high; but I must draw attention to the fact that there is nothing to prevent Second Division clerks from going in for the examination for Class I. Not only can they go in, but they have five extra years in which to do it. While a candidate from outside is obliged to compete between the ages of 22 and 24, a Second Division clerk can compete up to the age of 29. That is a very great advantage. This Resolution may be read in the sense either that all appointmants to the First Division must take place from the Second Division, or only that such promotions should take place as are possible. It is not very clear. In the limited form the Government could accept it at once, but it cannot be accepted in the wider sense. If it were to stand in its larger form it would injure a very large section of Her Majesty's subjects. Now, everybody in the United Kingdom can compete in the examination for Class I., whereas if all appointments were to be made from the Second Division, everybody would be shut out except those who happen to be in that Division. I think some notice ought to be taken of that point. Then comes the recommendation of the Playfair Commission with reference to promotion from the Lower Division to the Higher. They say—Promotion from the Lower to the Higher Division of the Service should be a matter of rare occurrence. This is necessary if there is to be any educational test for the Higher Division; and it is reasonable, not only because the original qualifications are lower, but also because the character of the work in the inferior grades will be rarely calculated to develop superior capacities. Such a promotion should not take place without a certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners granted upon a special recommendation of the head of the Department, and with the assent of the Treasury, and should be published in The Gazette.The Ridley Commission also reported— 932We are of opinion that it is desirable to secure young men of more liberal education for those posts in the Service which are not simply clerical, but demand a wider and more cultivated view of public affairs than can, as a rule, be expected from youths entering by the lower examination. We agree with the Playfair Commission that the best preparation for the Upper Division is not to be found in the purely clerical routine of the ordinary clerkships, though there may be exceptions. We are of opinion that on the whole, open competition is the best method of selection.I do not for a moment wish to cast any reflection upon the Second Division clerks. I have no doubt that numbers of them are quite capable of competing in Class I., and of taking high places in it; but I wish to be allowed to say that the Ridley Commission recommended that promotions from the Second Division should be the exception. I think I am perfectly justified in saying that. It is said that the War Office have gentlemen who are fitted for promotion, but who cannot be promoted because some arrangement has been made between the Treasury and the War Office. Arrangements were made by the Treasury, not only with the War Office, but with other public Departments, to carry out the recommendations of the Ridley Commission to the effect that it was necessary to reduce the numbers of the Upper Division, and it is owing to this necessary reduction in the Upper Division that these promotions cannot take place. An advantage has been secured by this reduction of the Upper Division, which is that it has enabled a larger scale of salaries to be paid. Therefore, certain advantages do accrue from the reduction. Now I come for a moment to the question of the number of promotions that have been made—and here I think there has been a certain amount of misrepresentation. The number 56 has, I think, been mentioned by more than one speaker, but I have not been able to discover that there is any ground for it. I have never said anything of the kind, and I cannot find in the Treasury anything which bears it out. During the time which has elapsed since the issue of the Second Report of the Ridley Commission to the present date the total number of appointments from the Second Division to the First Division and to staff places together has been 132. There have been 12 appointments from the Second Division to the First, and these 933 are appointments ordinarily filled by Class I. competitions. And during the same period, how many appointments does the House suppose have been made under open competition? Why, only 20. That, therefore, shows a large number of appointments from the Second Division —a larger proportion than even the Ridley Commission would have led the Second Division clerks to expect. In addition to these 12 promotions there have been 46 others which formerly, though not now, were classed as Class I. appointments. The 132 appointments have been divided between the Departments as follows:—The Admiralty 23, the Board of Agriculture 2, the Board of Trade 3, the Bankruptcy Department 6, the Patent Office 2, the Office of the Chief Secretary (Ireland) 4, Customs 2, Scotch Fishery Board 1, Inland Revenue Department 58, Irish Laud Commission 2, Local Government Board (England) 5, Local Government Board (Ireland) 1, Paymaster General's Office J, Public Works Office (Ireland) 8, Post Office 1, Science and Art Department 2, Secretary for Scotland's Office 1, Treasury 1, the Valuation Office (Dublin) 7, War Office 1, Woods and Forests 1. That is a total of 132. In connection with these promotions, I think I ought to state to the House that up to the present time, from the commencement of this new system, the Treasury have never hesitated to sanction recommendations made for promotion from any Department, and, therefore, whatever my hon. Friends wish to say as to the action of the Treasury they cannot say that we have not assented to the promotions proposed by the Departments. It does not rest with the Treasury to suggest those promotions, but with the different Departments. The Treasury have no authority to make recommendations, but they have to consider the proposals when they come before them. If any Public Department has a vacancy which it thinks can he adequately filled by an able man from the Second Division, if it makes a representation I can assure the House that that recommendation will be favourably considered by the Treasury in the future as it has been in the past. With respect to the general question, I can only say that I have been rather twitted with having expressed sympathy with the Second Division clerks. I would assert, 934 however, that I have a real sympathy for them. I know them to be aspiring, and hoping to rise to positions in the First Division. I sympathise with them in that aspiration. I can only say that the matter will always be dealt with sympathetically by the Treasury. I have no-doubt it will be dealt with sympathetically by the Departments; but I do hope that if my hon. Friend thinks it proper and necessary to carry his Motion to a Division the House will consider seriously before it passes such a Resolution. The Civil Service of this country is a very important body—one of the most important bodies in the country— and bears favourable comparison with similar bodies in any other country. I should be sorry if the House should think proper to pass a Resolution which would tie the hands of the Treasury or of the Government with respect to these appointments. On those grounds whilst, as I say, I sympathise in the strongest way with the aspirations of these gentlemen I do not think that they have made out their case against the Government. I consider that the Report of the Ridley Commission has been carried out honestly and fairly in their interest as well as in that of the State, and I see no reason why, as time goes on, there should not be an increased number of promotions made from the ranks of the Second Division as vacancies occur.
§ * MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I cannot but feel that I have a certain responsibility in this matter as having preceded the right hon. Gentleman opposite at the Treasury, and having been in Office when the Ridley Commission issued its Second Report. The House will feel that I am only doing my duty in stating my view with regard to the matter before the House. It would be wrong for anyone who has held the Office that I have held, and who has had the same long experience of the Civil Service, to refrain, from whatever motive, from giving his opinion frankly to the House. With regard to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman opposite in his last words: he spoke of the high character of our Civil Service. I believe there is no country which has a Civil Service so good as this country. It has served us in excellent stead, and what- 935 ever changes there may have been in the currents of public opinion the British Civil Service has always maintained its high and intelligent position, and has never gone back in public estimation. We are far from the days when it was considered that clerks in the Civil Service played from 10 till 4. They work hard, and their work is highly appreciated, both by their employers—the public—and those who are immediately placed over them. I would make an earnest appeal to the House not to tamper in any way with the general principles of our Civil Service, of which one of the chief is that new recruits are to be taken from all classes of society. The largo majority are taken from those—to whatever class they may belong—who are able to pass a certain high examination. I regret when I heard an hon. Member opposite speak about "birth." Birth has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the matter. The question is whether it is desirable that a certain number of men should still be admitted to the Civil Service who are able to pass that extremely difficult examination. Hon. Members may say, "What is the use of requiring Civil servants to be acquainted with those branches of study in which they are examined; is not the experience gained in the Second Division sufficient?" Well, I say as a taxpayer and a Member of Parliament who has taken a great interest in this matter for many years that the examination for the higher positions in the Civil Service should be such as to enable the country to secure the pick of the best men in the country so that we should not be obliged, as a rule, to resort to the Second Division. There is nothing anti-democratic in that—nothing that can jar on the sensibilities of the most advanced Radical. We ought to be able to secure the most intellectual portion of the public for the public Civil Service, as it is secured in other branches of life. I would remind the House how we have arrived at this general position, and why there is this discontent to a certain extent, which I deplore, and which I hope will be removed as time goes on by the promotions which will take place and to which the Government have pledged themselves. At the same time, let mo say this—that it is one of the mischiefs of Motions like the present 936 that they tend to tempt Ministers to say just a little more and to hold out a few more hopes than they afterwards are able to fulfil, and in this way expectations are raised, the failure to fulfil which is brought forward subsequently as a breach of faith—and we know on what slight foundation these charges are made. If any other Minister speaks, I urge him —and I do this quite as much on behalf of Civil servants as against them—to let the House know as clearly as possible what the Government intend to do, and do not let them hold out vague hopes of departing from what has been recommended by the Playfair and Ridley Commissions. There were phrases in the Report of the Ridley Commission which might be interpreted in different ways. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of accepting the Motion if it were slightly modified.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I think he did. Well, I should deprecate any such course. Let there be a clear understanding on this matter. I believe the general principle to be this—that a certain number of the Second Division are to be promoted, not, however, as the rule but as the exception, and that exception is to be based on the recommendation of the heads of Departments. I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the Treasury have not interfered but have sanctioned all the recommendations made to them. Now, how did they arrive at that position? The Report of every Commission has been founded on a desire for a reform in the Civil Service. The country desires economy, and, although by the abolition of a certain number of places a certain immediate economy is effected, discontent is raised in the ranks of the Civil servants, and there are heard, as the House has had experience to-day, suggestions of compensation for loss of prospects. I can understand that there should be compensation for loss of prospects, but it is a very elastic principle to introduce. There are hon. Members who hold the view that the State is almost prohibited from diminishing the number of appointments, all of which are not necessary for the Public Service, because of the fear of disappointing the expectations of those who have joined the Civil Service. If there are a certain number of higher posts and a certain 937 number of lower, I can quite conceive that those in the lower will consider it a grievance if the number of higher posts are reduced. The country should know-its own mind; it ought not first to abolish posts upon grounds of economy and then compensate discontented public servants for that abolition. I have thought it right to mention tins to the House. I do not think I have exceeded my duty in doing so. In the liberations made in the reforms in the Customs there was discontent engendered. It slumbered for a time, but the nation had to repay in the end a portion of the amount saved by the posts that were abolished. The upshot of this part of my remarks is this—that I would urge the House not to interfere too much with the Executive Government in the management of the Civil Service. It is often urged that the Government should conduct its business on the same fooling as a private firm; but how, I would ask, could a private firm conduct its business if its employés were able to appeal to the outside public in regard to questions of promotion and salary? it would be impossible. The Government find their friends ever ready to support them on political questions, but their friends sometimes find it difficult to give that support in regard to executive functions. I strongly sympathise with the Civil Service; but, impressed as I am with its excellence and industry, I consider it to be my duty in cases like this to support the Executive Government, and to allow no feeling of Party and no political differences to prevent my speaking out on a question like that involved in the present Motion, which really affects the whole Executive Government. I should look upon it as a disaster if this Motion were carried. It would be, indeed, difficult for the Executive Government to carry on the daily work of the nation if the House of Commons interfered too frequently between the employer and the employé, and, therefore, on behalf not only of the Government, but of the taxpayer, I make an earnest appeal that the Motion should not be carried.
§ * SIR W. HARCOURT
I hope that the important speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite will have all the weight which it ought to have with the House, for there is no one who has had fuller experience or is better able to 938 judge of facts of this kind than the right hon. Gentleman. I rise thus early in the Debate in order to save I he time of the House by expressing clearly the view of the Government now responsible in this mailer. Of course, one of the first objects of any Government is to give satisfaction and contentment to every branch of the Civil Service, whether it is the highest or the lowest. I hope nobody will controvert that obvious fact. The principles on which these different classes of Civil servants are established were set forth in the language of the Reports of the two Commissions to which reference has been made. One paragraph, to which I would specially call attention, is in these words—We have no doubt that it will always be necessary to introduce a very limited number of men, by means of the higher examination, to till directly some of the more important posts in the Public Service.Anybody who has occupied a responsible position in the Executive Government must know that the administration depends on keeping the more important posts in the hands of men of the very highest ability and education, and to depart from that would be to break down the just pride of this country in the efficiency of its Civil Service. The principle upon which Class I. is founded, and which was laid down by the Playfair Commission—a Commission composed, by the way, of men in non-official positions—is that it should be open to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects, irrespective of birth or social position. In this way we get the pick of the nation. The Second Division is chosen from a different class—not socially, but as regards the educational test. They are men who represent, only in a much better form, those who in the old days wore called "supernumeraries," though the latter were no doubt introduced without examination. The view taken of Class II. by the Ridley Commission is that they are required on account of the amount of simple routine work being very great in proportion to the work of the higher class. The work falling to members of Class II. is not, as a rule, of a kind that fits them for the highest posts. If the House considers this matter it will see that from the manner in which these appointments are made, the men of the Second Division are not primâ 939 facie of the order best fitted for the First Division. They can, of course, take part in the competitive examinations for the First Division if they are fit for it. The whole object of the scheme proposed by the Commission was that there should be two separate and distinct grades of clerks, the positions in which were to be competed for in two separate and distinct examinations. It has been remarked in the course of the Debate that in all trades and professions promotion is from the ranks, but it could scarcely be contended that a gasfitter is necessarily qualified for the post of chief engineer. The recommendation of the Ridley Commission as to promotions from the Second to the First Division has been closely observed. I may say, on behalf of the Treasury and the Government, that whenever the head of a Department has reported, as has occurred from time to time, that certain members of the Second Division have shown exceptional capacity and such qualifications as would fit them for the First Division, they have always received such appointments. That, I believe, will satisfy, as it ought to satisfy, the House. The hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Field) says he has received a large number of communications upon the subject, and I regret to hear it, because a question of this kind ought not to be made a matter for a personal canvass. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and myself, acting under a full sense of official responsibility, believe that the principles laid down in the recommendations of the Commissions are perfectly sound, and that if the House of Commons were hastily to endeavour to set those principles aside they would do infinite mischief, and would strike a fatal blow at the organisation of the Civil Service. Let the House consider for a moment what has been done in this matter. Complaint has been made that promotion is slow in the Civil Service. Promotion has undoubtedly been slow, but that has been caused by the necessities of the case, the great object having been to have a few men at good salaries for first-class work, and a number of men at sufficient salaries for inferior work. Steps have been taken for the purpose of accelerating promotion, including the creation of a number of staff appointments, so that the reasonable expectations of the clerks in the 940 Second Division have been fully met. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, there have been, since 1888, 12promotions from the Second to the First Division, whilst the number appointed to the First Division from outside has been 20. That, I submit, shows a fair proportion of promotions from the Second to the First Division, and is an adequate fulfilment of the policy recommended by the last Commission. I have taken great interest in this matter. I have watched the promotions from the Second into the First Divisions, and what happens is this— though the work in the Second Division is not of the highest order the heads of Departments are enabled to pick out in it men of high natural ability who, by sedulous devotion to the Public Service, show themselves capable of discharging the duties of the First Division. Men of that character become known in their office. Not long ago the President of the Local Government Board recommended a man from his Department, and the promotion was immediately assented to. Whenever a fit person is recommended for promotion in this way the Treasury has never refused, and will never refuse, to make the appointment. I cannot believe that there can be anybody in this House who will say that no man is to go into the First Division who had not been a Second Division Clerk. Nobody, I think, can maintain such a proposition as that, for it would necessarily lower the whole character of the First Division. Instead of opening the competitive examination to the whole country you would confine it to persons who have been deliberately admitted to the Civil Service upon a lower scale of examination. Anything that would be more destructive of the Public Service of this country it would be impossible to conceive What the Second Division have a right to ask is that those amongst them who in the work of their Departments have shown themselves capable men and men on a level with the men of the First Division, should be admitted to that Division. That is a view that the Government accept. If there have not been more promotions it has been be-cause there have been so few vacancies. I think I am right in saying that during the time the late Mr. W. H. Smith was First Lord of the Treasury by his directions no appointments were made from 941 outside at all. This was necessarily so, in order to carry out the recommendation of the Commission that all vacancies in the First Division should be filled up by transfer. I have endeavoured to state the view of the Government on this subject. We stand upon the Report of the Ridley Commission and the Playfair Commission, both most capable bodies, and we would advise the House to do the same. If, as representing the Treasury in this matter, I might add anything to what has been said by my right hon. Friend (Sir J. T. Hibbert), I would ask the House not to wreck that which is perhaps more than anything else essential to the good administration of the country— namely, the organisation of the Civil Service, and at the same time not to Jet it be believed that there is any wish whatever that the clerks of the Second Division should be treated with any unfairness. We desire to give what was called in revolutionary France a career open to talent in every form. We appeal to every class in the country to compete for situations in the First Division, while as to the clerks in the Second Division who were appointed on a lower examination, we say that if they prove their capabilities for occupying the highest positions they will have the good will and the cordial good wishes of the Executive Government. I hope that, with these assurances, my hon. Friend will be satisfied, and that he will not press his Motion to a Division.
§ MR. W. FIELD
said, that after the speeches of the two right hon. Gentlemen, he did not deem it wise to trouble the House any further in the matter, but he trusted that the Secretary to the Treasury and the Leader of the House would take to heart the arguments he had laid before them and that the claims of the Second Division clerks would in the future receive every consideration.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair."