HC Deb 27 April 1911 vol 24 cc2081-91

I desire to call attention to the mischievous methods of the Government in connection with Civil Service appointments. I shall have occasion, in dealing with the matter, to make reference to a particular appointment, but I should like it to be understood that in no sense do I desire to make my observations personal in any way to the particular gentleman who has been appointed to the post I shall mention. It is the disadvantage of the system to which the Government have descended that I object to. It is not the advantage of the individual derived from that system that I in any way challenge. The particular instance is simply an extreme and a glaring case of what has been happening to a greater or less degree, but with continuous regularity, in almost every Department of the Civil Service in the last five years. It is for that reason that I invite the attention of the House to it. With the possible exception of the Foreign Office and Education Office, the tradition of the Civil Service has been certainly in recent years a democratic one—that offices in the Civil Service should be filled from the Civil Service by open competition where the appointment is original, and by promotion so far as possible where promotion occurs within the limits of any particular Department. It is perhaps natural to find that that democratic tradition should be departed from by a Government which is not quite as democratic in its practice as it is in its professions. It is true that within the last five years there have been almost nine hundred appointments to the Civil Service of persons outside without any open competition or qualifying examination. I am not unaware of the fact that there have been unusual circumstances which may explain in some degree the appointments, but the mischief has gone a great deal further than that. Open competition and promotion within the Service has been overlooked when it might quite well have been undertaken, and although competition is not inevitably the best way to find the best people, it is not necessarily the worst one. I am not immediately concerned with the appointments, but I am concerned with the dangerous and demoralising tendency of making the posts in the Civil Service at the disposal of the Government, to be given by them without rhyme or reason, so far as the public can ascertain, to persons outside, except for reasons which are purely personal to their own policy, and which have no real regard to the interests of the State, but a great deal of regard to the interests of the particular Government in office.

That demoralising tendency has another aspect. The tendency to fill appointments and to give promotion without regard to public considerations has caused what I think I may refer to, by way of illustration, as a very dangerous attitude of mind on the part of the followers of the Government. We had quite recently a glaring instance in the attack made on the Lord Chancellor in respect of certain appointments made outside. There you have a Minister whom certainly no one can suspect of reactionary tendencies. He is an orthodox and possibly an extreme Radical, but one whose good faith no one would have the audacity to challenge, and yet because he is large minded enough to make personal qualification the test of patronage, and because he is deaf to the demand that patronage should be the prize of fidelity to party, he is hounded by the whole Radical pack as if he were a dishonourable man. That is the tendency which results from this sort of appointment, and I venture to say it is pitiful that the Prime Minister in this House should so far put an affront on a distinguished colleague as to take time, and time again, to consider what statement he should make, and what action he should take in connection with the conduct of the Lord Chancellor in that matter. I mention that by way of illustration of the danger of the blunder the Government has committed. An appointment has recently been made of Assistant-Comptroller of the National Debt Office. It is necessary no consider the functions of the Assistant-Comptroller, and the duties of that office, before turning to the particular appointment and the suitability of the gentleman appointed.

All the work of the National Debt office is actuarial and financial. It comprises the management of the Savings Bank Funds, the Irish Land Purchase Fund under the different Acts, the Local Loan Fund, and the Government annuity system, including from time to time the preparation of tables and the alteration of annuity tables as experience demands. There are two things indispensable for efficient work in that office. Those two things are actuarial knowledge and experience. It is very significant to observe that by a Treasury Minute issued in 1899 by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach and ever since acted upon, promotion from inside that office is impossible unless actuarial knowledge is possessed by the person applying for promotion. It makes me curious when one finds that a man who has laboured to qualify himself for work in that office and has devoted his life from the first to that office, incapable of promotion unless he-has actuarial knowledge, yet from outside at the will of the Government a gentleman may be translated to that office without any knowledge or experience of actuarial work of any kind. The present staff consists of thirty-three officials. Fourteen of them have passed examinations of the Institute of Actuaries. Three of them are fellows, and three of them are associates, while two of them are graduates of the London University. There is no more efficient staff in any Government department, yet the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary to the Treasury, comes to this House and insults that staff by saying that a Whip may be taken from the door of this House, an estimable gentleman, but with no professional knowledge such as that office demands. And why? Because there is-no one in the office, forsooth, says the right hon. Gentleman, who is qualified to-perform the duties of Assistant-Comptroller. A vacancy occurred in June, 1910. After seven weeks' delay, in August the Assistant Comptroller-General was promoted. Nothing more was done until April of the present year, after ten months' work in the office, which was continued perfectly successfully. I ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether it is not a fact that the Comptroller-General recommended for promotion one of the persons inside his own office. Turn for a moment to the precedents and we find that never since 1888 has there been a case of an outsider translated to that office. There is one exception which I will deal with in a moment. One gentleman was transferred from the Treasury. It was a transfer from one Government Department to another. The circumstances were exceptional, and at any rate you were transferring a gentleman with business and Departmental knowledge. Since then Sir William Harcourt and the hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) had opportunities of making appointments and both of them promoted men in the office. In 1903—I wish to be quite fair—when a Conservative Government was in power, an attempt was made to translate to this office a gentleman from outside. There was an absolute outcry on the part of the Radical party, and there was such an outcry on the part of "Truth "and various other Radical papers that the nominee actually had to resign, and never took up his official duties. And to the credit of one of the papers, "Truth," that paper describes the particular appointment to which I am now referring as an indefensible job. Why has the appointment of Sir Ernest Soares been made? Was it because of ill-health. The right hon. Gentleman informed the House this afternoon that it was not; that he would perform the work for the ordinary hours, and that he would perform the ordinary duties, which included a great deal of overtime. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his attention has been called to the circular letter which Sir E. Soares, in parting from his Constituents, wrote on 16th April of this year. I will read two or three lines of it:— It is with deep and genuine grief that I write this letter, but circumstances over which I have no control compel it. For some time past my health has been far from satisfactory, and I feel the time is bound shortly to arrive when I should be unable to fulfil those duties which pertain to a Junior Lordship of the Treasury, duties which necessitate constant care, and often all-night sittings in the House of Commons. It is illness which is going to prevent him from going on. He says:— It is for this cause, and this cause only, I am bound to sever my connection with my Constituency. Yet the right hon. Gentleman comes down here and says that health had nothing whatever to do with it. Is it from a belief in the incapacity of those within the office that we have the appointment of a gentleman from outside? The right hon. Gentleman says "Yes." Was it from any special capacity of Sir E. Soares that he was appointed from outside this office? His business experience is limited, for in the past he carried on practice as a solicitor. I have nothing to say to that, and so far as it goes, it would qualify him for the work in certain aspects, but the business of a solicitor has no earthly relation to actuarial business and the business of high finance with which the National Debt Office is concerned. As regards the recent experience of Sir E. Soares, it has been limited, so far as is publicly known, to rounding up recalcitrant Radicals who wished to escape from the precincts of this House. So far as his mathematical knowledge has been concerned, it has been limited to counting heads as they emerged from the lobby. What was the reason which led to this appointment? If you turn to the election literature issued by Sir E. Soares, you will find two things. He states that he is a "strong believer in a good and efficient Second Chamber." He also said, in leaded type:— I hope you will not be led astray by the Home Rule bogey which our opponents are trying to set up. And he added that he pledges himself not to vote for an "independent Parliament for Ireland." Let me ask this question: Was it ill-health that led to this appointment, was it capacity in Sir E. Soares, or his special qualifications which led to it; or was it the incapacity of others in the office, or was it, on all these points upon which the Government are mainly concerned at present, that he was not quite in accordance with them? However it may be, let me make this observation in conclusion. In making these appointments, it is of the utmost importance that economy and efficiency should be considered in reference to the public service. Are you going to get that economy and that efficiency? The public has a right to the best work that can be got for the Civil Service, and you are not doing that if you get an inefficient man and pay him the wages of an efficient man. You are neither making the Civil Service economical or efficient. You want to command public confidences, which you cannot have if you perpetrate jobs like this. You ought at least to show some meed of fairness to the permanent staff of the Civil Service. You discourage effort by introducing unqualified outsiders into Government Departments, you dissuade the best type of men from entering the service, you provoke a great sense of injustice, and, what is more, you do a great wrong to people who, from the beginning of their careers, have devoted their efforts, and devoted their energies and devoted their means to qualifying themselves for promotion in the Government service. Those people you wrong. You degrade the class of them, you injure the public service, you injure the credit of the Civil Service, if, for the sake of some indirect motive, some benefit that is going to accrue to the Front Bench, some difficulty to be got over, some advantage to be gained, you perpetrate jobs of this sort, which amount to nothing else but a public scandal.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down began his remarks by drawing attention to what he called the mischievous methods of the Government. He went on to inform the House that the last thing he intended to do was to be personal—


I was not personal.


After all, the House is the best judge of whether the remarks of the hon. Gentleman were personal or not—


I said nothing disparaging about Sir Ernest Soares.


What was the whole pith of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He drew attention to the political opinions of Sir Ernest Soares. I venture to think, as he has raised the matter, that the political opinions and productions of Sir Ernest Soares are not in question at the present moment. They neither fit nor unfit him for the position which he now holds. I am bound to say that the criticisms which the hon. Gentleman made upon Sir Ernest Soares' views give, I think, the whole clue to the discussion that we have been listening to for the last few moments. If he had been sitting on those benches opposite there would not have been a word said about the appointment. His real offence is that he was sitting on this side of the House. I would ask the House to consider what is the business that has to be transacted in the National Debt Office and what are the qualifications of Sir Ernest Soares for that appointment. First of all, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is the management of Life Annuities, a very complicated subject raising a very large number of legal questions. There is then the investment of large sums of money, the Old and New Sinking Funds, Post Office Savings Banks, Trustee Banks, Unclaimed Dividends, and certain funds of the Supreme Court. All these do not necessitate the great actuarial knowledge upon which the hon. Member dealt so largely. They require a very considerable knowledge of finance, not necessarily learnt in the lower stages of any Government office. They require a certain, indeed a wide, knowledge of all the legal questions which surround these investments, and upon that point they require a very considerable knowledge, both of men and more particularly of the City in general. Then there is the management of the Local Loans Fund, which raises a considerable number of legal and general financial questions. A very large sum is held by the National Debt Commissioners—first of all, in Funded Debt, then in Terminable Annuities, and in various securities of one sort or another—amounting to something between £200,000,000 and £300,000,000. Therefore you want a person of general good-standing and also of honourable, upright character as representing the National Debt Commissioners. The hon. Member opposite dwelt on the actuarial information which he desired the House to understand it was essential that any person holding the position of Assistant-Comptroller should have. It is unquestionable that in the office actuarial knowledge is necessary. It is unquestionable that the clerks in the lower ranks in the office do require that knowledge, and some of them must have it. But everybody knows who has any knowledge of Government Departments, that while a great deal of technical knowledge is wanted by the lower ranks, it is not essential to the successful and efficient management of the office itself that the higher officers should have that particular kind of technical knowledge. [A laugh.] The hon. Member who laughs is a K.C. He knows perfectly well that there is another branch of his own profession with which he is probably not very familiar, namely, the solicitors' branch. In the same way in regard to these offices, it is not necessary that every member in the office should have the same knowledge. The knowledge of the lower ranks supports the higher ranks, and the experience of the higher ranks utilises and guides the knowledge acquired in the lower ranks. As to the personal qualifications of Sir E. Soares, the hon. Member passed them over in a very slighting way. I venture to say that Sir E. Soares' qualifications as a scholar and as a man of business are exceptionally high. He was an Exhibitioner at St. John's College, Cambridge. [A laugh.] I do not know that that is anything to laugh at, unless the hon. Gentleman despises education altogether. He was also a First Class Prizeman in his college, which also perhaps the hon. Gentleman despises.


I deprecate these offensive personal allusions. Why the right hon. Gentleman should go out of his way to suggest that the hon. Member who raised this question had no appreciation of intellect or knowledge, I really do not know.


I only judge by the hon. Member's demeanour.


Again I say that is unnecessarily offensive.


With regard to Sir Ernest Soares he is a gentleman of experience and a solicitor in very good practice, which yielded him a very much larger income than he will derive from politics or his present office. In fact, so far as mere income is concerned he gives up income by his transference. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a permanent post."] Although he may be giving up what may be a temporary for what may be, and probably is, a permanency, over the actual years involved there is an actual loss of money. I have made inquiry as to the kind of work which will be transacted by the Assistant-Comptroller. It consists in dealing with securities which must be in legal form, and with matters which must be executed according to legal form. It deals with bonds, etc., and constantly includes legal questions which in times past have had to be referred to the Treasury Solicitor, and which we hope and expect will not have to be so referred so often in future. Only today the Comptroller-General tells me that he has had difficult legal questions submitted to him in connection with one

of these forms of security and powers of attorney that in an ordinary course he would have taken to the solicitor for treatment. But he can deal with it with the aid of the colleague that he has at present. I will not go back, though I might, into the question of the transference from the Whips room to other appointments. I think the appointment which has been made is justifiable in every respect. I am exceedingly glad that the point has been raised in the House, because I think it has enabled us to justify the appointment, both by reason of the kind of work generally to be done, and by the qualifications of the person employed to do it.


I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the compliment that he paid the Whips room. I have sat in that room for eleven years, and I have not yet found anyone who knew anything about bonds of identity or mortgages, or the various legal matters which seem necessary to this appointment, which apparently Sir E. Soares learnt in the Radical Whips room. It was evidently a first-class educational establishment. I regret very much on behalf of the public service to learn that there is no one in that service that the right hon. Gentleman can find capable of taking this important post. It speaks very badly for the efficiency of our public service or the ability of those who select the officers. I take very strong objection that our public service should be made a well-paid nursing home for those Whips who cannot sit up at nights.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY (Mr. Joseph Pease)

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided: Ayes, 148; Noes, 49.

Division No. 190.] AYES. [10.59 p.m.
Abraham, Rt. Hon. William (Rhondda) Brocklehurst, William B. Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-shire)
Acland, Francis Dyke Brunner, John F. L. Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)
Adamson, William Burns, Rt. Hon. John Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley)
Addison, Dr. Christopher Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North) Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)
Agnew, Sir George William Cawley, H. T. (Lancs., Heywood) Elibank, Rt. Hon. Master of
Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Chapple, Dr. William Allen Elverston, Harold
Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark) Clough, William Ferens, Thomas Robinson
Barnes, George N. Clynes, John R. Fiennes, Hon. Eustace Edward
Barran, Rowland Hirst (Leeds, N.) Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Fitzgibbon, John
Barry, Redmond John (Tyrone, N.) Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) France, Gerald Ashburner
Beauchamp, Edward Crawshay-Williams, Eliot Gelder, Sir William Alfred
Benn, W. (T. Hamlets, St. George) Cullinan, J. Gill, Alfred Henry
Booth, Frederick Handel Davies, E. William (Eifion) Goldstone, Frank
Bowerman, Charles W. Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Griffith, Ellis Jones
Brace, William Dawes, James Arthur Guest, Major Hon. C. H. C. (Pembroke)
Brigg, Sir John Devlin, Joseph Hackett, John
Hancock, John George Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Rose, Sir Charles Day
Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) M'Callum, John M. Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil) M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe) Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) M'Micking, Major Gilbert Seely, Col. Rt. Hon. J. E. B.
Harvey, W. E (Derbyshire, N. E.) Manfield, Harry Simon, Sir John Allsebrook
Haslam, James (Derbyshire) Marshall, Arthur Harold Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clithero)
Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)
Haworth, Arthur A. Middlebrook, William Snowden, Philip
Hayden, John Patrick Millar, James Duncan Strachey, Sir Edward
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Molteno, Percy Alport Sutton, John E.
Higham, John Sharp Morgan, George Hay Thomas, James Henry (Derby)
Hinds, John Morrell, Philip Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. Muldoon, John Toulmin, George
Holt, Richard Durning Munro, Robert Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Horne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich) Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster) Verney, Sir Harry
Howard, Hon. Geoffrey O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Hunter, William (Lanark, Govan) O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)
Isaacs, Sir Rufus Daniel O'Doherty, Philip Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay
John, Edward Thomas O'Dowd, John Watt, Henry A
Johnson, William O'Grady, James White, Sir George (Norfolk)
Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe) Parker, James (Halifax) White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E. R.)
Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Pearce, Robert (Staffs., Leek) White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Jowett, Frederick William Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham) Whitehouse, John Howard
Keating, Matthew Pickersgill, Edward Hare Williams, John (Glamorgan)
King, Joseph (Somerset, North) Pointer, Joseph Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Lambert, George (Devon, Molton) Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central) Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.)
Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.) Wilson, W. T. Westhoughton)
Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rl'nd, Cockerm'th) Pringle, William M. R. Wood, T. M'Kinnon (Glasgow)
Levy, Sir Maurice Raffan, Peter Wilson Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)
Lewis, John Herbert Reddy, Michael Young, William (Perth, East)
Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas Richards, Thomas
Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich) Richardson, Albion (Peckham)
Lundon, Thomas Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Illingworth and Mr. Gulland.
Lyell, Charles Henry Roberts, George H. (Norwich)
Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)
Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F. Grant, James Augustus Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)
Astor, Waldorf Guinness, Hon. Walter Edward Smith, F. E. (Liverpool, Walton)
Baird, John Lawrence Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne) Smith, Harold (Warrington)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Hall, Fred (Dulwich) Spear, John Ward
Banner, John S. Harmood- Henderson, Major H. (Berks, Abingdon) Steel-Maitland, A. D.
Barlow, Montague (Salford, South) Hillier, Dr. Alfred Peter Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)
Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Hills, John Waller (Durham) Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, N.)
Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich) Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy Thynne, Lord Alexander
Carlile, Edward Hildred Joynson-Hicks, William Touche, George Alexander
Cautley, Henry Strother Kebty-Fletcher, J. R. Wolmer, Viscount
Chaloner, Col. R. G. W. Lowther, Claude (Cumberland, Eskdale) Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)
Craig, Captain James (Down, E.) Mackinder, Halford J. Worthington-Evans, L.
Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. S. Newton, Harry Kottingham Yate, Col. C. E.
Duke, Henry Edward Norton-Griffiths, J. (Wednesbury)
Fell, Arthur Parker, Sir Gilbert (Gravesend)
Fisher, William Hayes Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Norman Craig and Mr. Peel.
Forster, Henry William Rutherford, W. (Liverpool, W. Derby)
Goldman, Charles Sydney Sanders, Robert Arthur

Question put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY.—Considered in Committee.

[Mr. LYELL (Deputy-Chairman) in the Chair.]