§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the Civil Service has merited the gratitude of the nation but that its continued efficiency depends upon the control of that Service by His Majesty's Ministers responsible to this House, upon the strict maintenance of its constitutional position as a subordinate branch of administration, and upon the continuance of those traditions by which it has been animated in the past.Perhaps, while hon. Members are Leaving the Chamber, I may be permitted a few preliminary words until the House has settled down, and we are left to the soliloquy of a quiet dinner hour in the presence of the Official Reporter. In rising to propose the Motion which stands in my name, it is a considerable satisfaction that the great bulk of those who are listening to me will be in sympathy with the major part of my Motion. I am certain that all of us acknowledge the deep debt which Constitutional Government in this country owes to our unique Civil Service. We have, perhaps, less definite knowledge of the Civil Service in older days, but for the last two or three generations we have known how much we owe to the Civil Service. In the older days the function of the official agents of administration were dependent largely upon varying circumstances and, perhaps, upon personal influences, but in later times the functions of our civil servants have become more 290 clearly defined and their duties more exacting.
It was about the middle of the last century that Parliament decided, after due deliberation, that entry into the Civil Service should be decided by competitive examination, not an infallible method of selection—[An HON. MEMBER "Hear, hear !"]—hut one which, despite the doubt expressed by one hon. Member, had the advantage of securing a certain intellectual energy and capacity, and which, I think, looking back upon these three generations, has worked well on the whole. The main features of our Civil Service depend upon the fact that it is governed by the spirit rather than the letter. It conforms in that to our British Constitution which is, above all things, flexible, and that flexibility is its crowning virtue. The Civil Service has been guided not so much by formal rules and regulations as by a high spirit of honour, by zeal in the discharge of its duties, and by pride of tradition which ought to and, we believe, does animate it.
I do not consider that the fact that for 35 years I served in the ranks of the Civil Service debars me from paying a due tribute of respect to it, and even from venturing to share in the high pride which it claims. Our Civil Service has never been, as in some other countries, a class apart. It has stood on a footing of equality with the best of the professional class. It has mingled with them in all their varieties of intellectual and political tastes. It has its restrictions but it also has its compensations. It has security, and within moderate and adequate measure independence, and though the 291 unwritten tradition which ought to govern the relations between the political chief and the permanent servants are duly and loyally observed, those relations can become, as I can say from experience, peculiarly pleasant. It was not the business of the civil servant to hold direct communication with the outside world—a claim which I observe is made for him in recent days—nor was it the business of the civil servant to practice political propaganda. It was the business of the civil servant to put before his political chief with all the force of argument that he could command, his own opinion, but, on the other hand, when the political chief had chosen his final and deliberate policy it was the duty of the permanent civil servant to follow it loyally and to press it forward with the utmost zeal in his power.
I venture to quote one instance from my own experience. Rarely, in the long course of 35 years, during 20 years of which I was the permanent head of a Department, was it my lot to differ with my political chief. These things seldom do occur; but on one occasion a political chief who was also a: lifelong and most intimate friend of mine, took a different view from me upon a particular point. We discussed it fully and came no nearer to agreement. Finally, he said,I hold to my original opinion. You have certain technical and detailed knowledge which I do not possess. I have to ask you to draft a full letter, putting my case against your own as honestly as you can.My political chief in asking this was strictly within his rights, and unhesitatingly I drafted a letter out-arguing my own argument. I am certain that any Civil servant who understood the spirit of his job would have felt and acted as I did. The Civil Service has the advantage of security and of adequate independence. It does not seek, and perhaps does not greatly miss, the delights of publicity—an aim which seems to attract every day more worshippers. It is now, as we are all aware, the avowed object of proclaimed ambition. I am inclined to think, although I cannot profess to be familiar with all the rapidly developing features of our modern Universities, that in some of these institutions it has become part of the curriculum and is recognised by a University degree. But perhaps the Civil Service was wise not to worship at that 292 shrine. May I venture, for the first time and for the last in this House, to quote from a Latin poet."Nee visit male qui natus moriens-que fefellit, says Horace. If I might freely translate I would do so in this way—"He has not lived ill who from birth to death has eschewed self-advertisement."But sound work in congenial surroundings and among loyal colleagues, and the consciousness of playing no inferior part in guiding public affairs, are no worthless compensations even for the delights of publicity.
Nor was it until very recent years that financial considerations began to bulk largely in the horizon of the Civil Service. They sought and strove for a fair competence, and were content to balance its moderate dimensions by the consolation of congenial and important work. It was not the habit of the civil servant of the higher grade to aspire to the five figure salaries of the City. While having the highest respect for the leaders of commerce and finance, he did not seek to enter their ranks; nor did he think that financial magnates were always seen at their best in public administration. But of late years new ideas have prevailed. Some of the new type of politicians conceive that the straight path to a political millenium is to be found in the apotheosis of the business man and in the supremacy of the Lombard Street financier in the fields of higher politics at Downing Street. It is a pleasing delusion; I think it has already been found out. But it has produced some ugly and pernicious results. First of all, the relations between Lombard Street and the Treasury became rather too close to be quite wholesome.
Between the leading officials of the Treasury and the heads of finance constant negotiations must go on. Is it quite as it should be that these leading officials should, upon retirement from office, find places waiting for them on leading financial undertakings, which they in their turn will represent in negotiations with those who were lately their own junior colleagues? Further, the Civil Service has been able, without any deliberate action by this House, to increase the salaries of the higher officers on the ground that they must be paid salaries which will enable them to resist the lavish offers made to them by the City. I have serious doubts whether the estimate of those gentlemen in the City is quite as high as their own. But at 293 least I am quite sure that to raise their salaries so as to be in many cases 50 per cent. higher than those paid to the Ministers under whom they serve, is a flagrant flouting of Parliament, whose representatives. are placed openly in an inferior position to those over whom they are supposed to exercise authority. This lavish extension of the salary scale was made on the recommendation of a Committee of three, of whom Lord Oxford and Asquith was chairman. It was never discussed from beginning to end in Parliament. These are ugly features in the new development of the Civil Service, of which we formerly had every reason to be proud.
But there are other aspects of the matter which are equally distasteful, and perhaps even more dangerous. There seems to be a morbid desire among some of our politicians of to-day to substitute formality and iron-bound definition for flexibility and the spirit of a sound tradition. I have had on former occasions, by my pen and in this. House, to protest most strongly against that new-fangled and fantastic machinery of a Cabinet Secretariat. I tried to show—and I then had the support of the present Lord Oxford and Asquith and of Sir Donald Maclean—that this invention was profoundly opposed to the whole spirit of our Constitution. As a legal term that Constitution knows nothing of what is called the Cabinet. The Cabinet is none the less an excellent and a potent force in this country; but every constitutional lawyer will tell you that it is very hard to define. It is probably only a Committee of the Privy Council, not confined, like other Committees of the Privy Council, to one subject, but ranging over every sphere of administration. No minutes were kept. Its decisions were locked in the breasts of its members, and could be divulged only in special circumstances and by the express permission of His Majesty the King. We all know that with any body of loyal and honourable men such is the best possible arrangement.
But now a new branch of this encroaching Civil Service is to be invested with functions which were never before entrusted even to members of the Privy Council. It was held improper for any Privy Councillor to publish, or even to keep, notes of its proceedings. But 294 these new officials are to shape the new Minutes; they are to be the repositories of all the precedents. They arc presumably to be invested with the full and intimate confidences of successive Governments of the most diverse principles. Are these confidences to be their own exclusive property, or are they to he open to the inspection of succeeding Governments? The whole scheme has been adopted without due consideration, with amazing recknessness, and with a disregard of possible absurdities that shows a considerable lack of humour. It was one of the most baleful of the fell heritages that were left to us by the Coalition Government.
Curiously enough, history had its lesson that might have pointed out the danger involved. Have the devisers of new and unconstitutional expedients ever inquired how the Secretaries of State acquired their power? They were originally only the clerks who drafted the Orders in Council when the Privy Council was the main instrument in Government. In that capacity they became inevitably the chief repositories of power. But that power was legitimate and constitutional, because they were responsible to Parliament. Our precious Cabinet Secretariat can never aspire to that responsibility.
But may we not be allowed deeply to regret that some support is now given to schemes having the same tendency as some of the regrettable changes wrought by the Coalition Government? I do not wish to occupy the time of the House by recounting the constant and increasing encroachments upon the sphere both of the legislative and the judicial elements in our constitution, by aggressive action on the part of those who are, after all, only subordinate members of the administrative machine. These subordinate officials now are becoming more pronounced in self-advertisement; they receive salaries largely shove those paid to their responsible chiefs; by easy methods of draftsmanship they secure for themselves what are practically legislative and judicial powers. It is surely time that the responsible Government reasserted the proper prerogative of His Majesty's Administration, of Parliament, and of the Judiciary, and relegated to their own proper functions a small section of the Civil Service, with 295 which the great majority of that Service are profoundly out of sympathy, and whose tendency they would gladly repudiate had they the chance.
This is the moment chosen to put forward a new theory, and to claim for a single member of the Civil Service a power and authority which have never belonged to his office, for which no shred of constitutional principle can he adduced, which would dislocate the whole administrative machine, and which has aroused the unanimous opposition of the Civil Service itself. I refer to the scheme of creating and assuming for an officer in a single Department the high sounding title of"Head of the Civil Service,"and assigning to him certain functions which are arbitrarily to be attached to that newly-minted office.
I had occasion to ask certain questions of the Prime Minister with regard to this new scheme. With his usual courtesy, the Prime Minister, who had expressed formerly his desire to have a Debate on the subject, has explained to rue to-day the impossibility of his attendance, and, of course, I accept the explanation absolutely. I have full authority from him to refer to certain of his answers, and I am compelled to say that those answers raised in my mind certain misgivings, which I hope he or his representative may he able to remove. He told me that the post was first created by Treasury Minute in 1867, but it subsequently appeared that that Minute has disappeared for more than 50 years, so that its historical value is appreciably impaired. If appears that in 1918 or thereabouts something more was done, but we are not told exactly what that something was. This at least can be said—that so far as I know, no official paper or document presented to this House, as Estimate or otherwise, has used that title. It has crept info"Whitaker's Almanack,"a very useful, but not exactly authoritative reference book. One is inclined to wonder by what agency it found its way there.
It is somewhat wonderful in view of these declarations that I should have received several letters from former Secretaries of the Treasury and of other leading public departments testifying in the strongest way that no such appoint- 296 ment and no such regulation ever prevailed in their time or would have been recognised. In quite recent years there were three co-ordinate permanent Secretaries to the Treasury. Which of these three co-ordinate permanent Secretaries was the titular of this new mysterious supremacy? To an old member of the Civil Service, there is, besides its palpable lack of constitutional foundation, something ludicrously absurd in this new-fangled piece of mountebankism. It occurs to me that in very recent years the Permanent Head of the Foreign Office was an ex-Viceroy of India and a Knight of the Garter, and, presumably, exercising no slight or insignificant influence in his own proper sphere. There is something vastly amusing in the idea of his being, in regard to his own office, at the orders of a junior member of the Civil Service, whose responsibilities ought to be strictly curtailed to his own office, and might, no doubt, with advantage be employed there. I have nothing to say against the present Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, and his personality has not, I confess, prompted me to prolonged study. But, as a very old member of the Public Accounts Committee, I know the enormous debt we owe to the conspicuously eminent ability of the leading Treasury officials. I have never found the part of the Secretary one of the most conspicuous, and I am credibly informed that he considers his official duties in his own office to be subordinate to those plenipotentiary duties which are claimed, by or for him, in other offices, under this new-fangled and ill-chosen title.
The truth is that the whole scheme is a preposterous figment, constitutionally unsound, lacking any fragment of historical foundation, pernicious to the Civil Service, and dangerous to the functions of Parliament, unless it be peremptorily checked. The Prime Minister declares that he considers that the supreme responsibility of his own office for the supervision of the whole machinery of administration must be maintained. There we will all cordially, loyally and unanimously agree; but when he says that this supreme responsibility must be exercised through the agency and on the advice of a particular subordinate official in a particular office, then we claim the liberty, as loyal supporters, to disagree 297 with him absolutely and completely. By all means let that supreme responsibility be exercised by the Prime Minister, but it must be exercised through his colleagues, who are the Ministers of His Majesty, and who are responsible to Parliament, each for his own office. Never let us consent, that subordinates should be made masters—that the independent authority of Ministers and of Parliament should be impaired. It is only our duty to tell the Prime Minister that if he persist in pressing this newly and ill-conceived scheme upon us he will create a situation of grave danger. I am old enough to have long experience, and I can assure him that had former Prime Ministers ever put forward this doctrine and pretended to recognise a single Civil Servant as one who possessed, outside his own office, a power of controlling interference with the offices under other Ministers, the postbags of these Premiers would have yielded a- heavy crop of resignations. I have known some who, even under the most autocratic Premiers, would have resented with some emphasis any hint of such treatment. Grateful as we- are to our incomparable Civil Service, at once for their administrative zeal and for their constitutional tact, we should be none the less on the alert to watch for any encroachments, which are as adverse to the real interests of the Service as they are destructive of all sound theory of Parliamentary Government. I would ask the House to adopt the Motion which stands in my name. It is not a censure upon anyone. If anything it is a warning. But ask it to be adopted in order that there may be no doubt that this House will tolerate no tampering with the fundamental basis of Parliamentary government under the specious pretext of administrative convenience.
One word more only. We have quite recently changed the whole position of that great Civil Service in India, which for generations has exercised wide administrative and political power. It is to the honour of that great Service in India that to-day all the leading members of it have loyally accepted the new position, have descended to the position of civil servants in this country, and are prepared to do their very utmost to make successful the new constitution there. Is is not somewhat strange that, at the 298 same moment when they are bringing those who have administered a vast country where constitutional government is only in its cradle under the rules that govern the Civil Service here, we are relaxing those rules in regard to our own home civil servants and allowing them, step by step, to assume re-al administrative power?
§ Mr. WEBB
I am sure the House will feel that the speech to which we have just listened has shown not merely a fine temper, bin also a historical knowledge and what I may call a genial survey of the past that is a little rare in discussions in this House. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) really divided his speech into two parts. The terms of the Motion relate to the whole Civil Service and to its position and right policy and the necessity of its retaining the honourable and influential position which it rightly holds. But, on the other hand, one cannot help feeling that the right hon. Gentleman himself attaches even more importance to the specific example which he chose of the rise in recent years of what he describes as the new official position of the permanent Bead of the Civil Service itself. I want to make some remarks on both those aspects. and I want, to begin with the examination of this position of the head of the Civil Service to which the right hon. Gentleman takes so much exception.
I can remember, when I myself was a member of the Civil Service, being struck with the humble origin of the clerkships in the office of a- Secretary of State, how 200 years ago they were the personal servants of the Minister who happened to hold that high office, and all our Departments have grown out of those little groups of personal servants of the Ministers for the time being. But the position now is very different, and I cannot help thinking the right hon. Gentleman has not given sufficient weight to the change in those offices. It might have been possible 200 years ago for each to have arranged the affairs of his own office and to have made his own appointments—
§ Mr. WEBB
—and to have, in fact, directed the office in the way that he thought most convenient, but now that you have such colossal Departments, not merely individually colossal, but still more colossal in the aggregate, there does seem some reason why a certain uniformity, a certain parallelism, should be maintained, not only in salaries, but also in hours, methods of appointment, and everything else,. When I came to the Board of Trade, at a considerable interval after I had been in the Civil Service, it occurred to me to ask:"How many letters do I receive every day?"The officer to whom I addressed that inquiry said:"I do not know,"and, without saying anything to me, they took a census for three days of the letters that arrived. At the end of the week they brought me the total, and the average day's total was 8,152—that is, 8,152 letters a day. That is a fact which could be talked about to one's constituents, but I need hardly say that I never saw those letters, and I then asked,"How many people are in the Department?"and the reply was."Excluding the provinces, and in London alone, rather over 3,000."That was one Department, one office, out of the congeries of five and twenty or so offices of which the Civil Service is now composed. Therefore, when you have a change from a comparatively small office—for, as the right hon. Gentleman said, not many years ago they were small offices—to the present enormous Departments, it should be taken into account. When I was in the Colonial Office, I think we were under 50 all told, and I am not such a very old man even now, so that when you come to the 3,000 of the Board of Trade and the corresponding numbers in other offices, it must be plain that some change is required. I do not know the historical origin of the head of the Civil Service. It is certainly very queer that it should date from a Treasury Minute of 1867, and that that minute should have been lost, but, after all, lawyers are not unfamiliar with titles which rest on presumptions of grants which have been lost, and there is nothing very odd in that.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
Are the lawyers familiar with titles which are repudiated by the heads of Departments?
I withdraw the analogy, if there is anything in it to which the right hon. Gentleman objects, but I think substantially we may trace the origin of this dangerous functionary—dangerous to the welfare of the State and unknown to the Constitution—and trace its gradual rise to not so many years ago. I always think that this function, though not the functionary, probably had something to do with the recommendations of a certain Departmental Committee which was set up at about that time, known as the Machinery of Government Committee, and that Committee's Report, which has been very widely sold, is a very interesting document. That particular Blue Book happens now to be a text book in university studies on the Constitution, and the Stationery Office receives a constant supply of orders from students who have been directed to read the Machinery of Government Report as being the best account of the practice of the British Constitution in this respect. That Report certainly in various ways recommended that there should be some officer, some department, attached to the Treasury which should exercise a supervision, and in that sense even a control, over the other Government Departments, that the Treasury control ought not to consist merely in objecting to and criticising proposals for an increase of salary or an increase of expenditure, but that it ought to exercise an active supervising and inquiring authority, to see whether other reductions could not be made, to initiate reductions, and, for that matter, to initiate increases where increases were required. In fact, the recommendations of the Departmental Committee went a long way in the direction to which the right hon. Gentleman, apparently. strongly objects.
I have no responsibility in this matter now. The right hon. Gentleman who will reply for thy' Government will tell ns later what the view of His Majesty's Government is upon the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman has made. I cannot help thinking it is a good thing that there should he some sort of supervisory influence over all Government Departments—that the time has gone when each office can be allowed to he a law unto itself, and that it is necessary that changes should be made simultaneously in all offices, not merely with regard to scales of salaries and hours of work, but all sorts of other 301 things. In that way, I think it is almost inevitable that the almost unlimited autocracy which the Minister in charge of a Department had in years gone by, must necessarily come to an end, or be largely encroached upon, if you are to have a Civil Service which is now something like 300,000 in the aggregate, including all grades. If you have a Civil Service of 300,000 strong, it does become something quite other than the congeries of separate departments which it was a generation ago. If there is to be that supervision, it cannot be exercised, I venture to say, by a Minister, unless you have a Minister who does nothing else. If you have this Department of the Treasury charged with the supervision o f the other Departments—I do not mean with regard to policy, but simply with regard to the mechanism of the Department—then the head of the Treasury necessarily becomes responsible for the proper conduct of that Department at the Treasury. Then you have the question,"To whom is the head of the Treasury responsible?"The Prime Minister, the other day, very emphatically laid it down that he, as Prime Minister, felt he had responsibility over the whole conduct of the Civil Service, and necessarily exercised that responsibility through the Department of which the First Lord of the Treasury is the head.
With all the will in the world to fall in with the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, I really do not think there is much of which to complain on that score. If authority is to be exercised over the other departments, it would scarcely be any other Department than the Treasury in which that supervision should be placed. Again—coming back to the Colonial Office—we should have resented this authority of the Treasury as much too autocratic and too interfering. But now I am no longer an official of the Colonial Office, and look at it from another point of view, I can see there is some advantage of an outside department having to exercise that supervision over the mechanism of any department. Therefore, so long as we have the Treasury definitely responsible to the Ministers in charge of the Treasury, so long as we have those Ministers associated together with Cabinet responsibility, I am afraid we 302 cannot, as democrats, find anything of which to complain in the fact that the Prime Minister takes advice with regard to the exercise of that responsibility. All Ministers have to take advice, and that is how the permanent Civil Service exercises such a valuable and very important part in the government of the country. I admit the right hon. Gentleman, I think said, that the Prime Minister ought to exercise authority over the whole function of the Civil Service, but that he has to do that., not through the agency or upon the advice of a particular official, but through his colleagues in the Cabinet. I understand that is the right hon. Gentleman's position.
§ Mr. WEBB
That is to say, his colleague."The political head of the Department"—it is interesting how that adjective came to be attached to the Minister. The Minister has to content himself with being the political head in deciding the policy. If a Minister found himself very much engaged in the mechanism of the Department, and tried to answer 8,000 letters a day, he would have very little time for that policy. But when the right hon. Gentleman suggested that at no previous time did the Prime Minister exercise that authority over all the other officials except in the Cabinet through his colleagues, I remember to have read that one Prime Minister, namely, Sir Robert Peel, was reputed to be the actual working head of every Department of the State in his Ministry. Some people think lie was the greatest Prime Minister in many respects.
§ Mr. WEBB
I do not know how he did it. I think it is very probable that, unless he had a hundred arms and hands, he must have exercised it through arms and hands not his own. It may be there was no single officer who was the channel, but in this case the permanent head of the Treasury only exercises through the Department the supervision of the organisation of the Departments, scales of salaries, appointments, hours, holidays, the mechanical part of the office 303 work, in which you can hardly expect any Prime Minister, not even Sir Robert Peel, to be very proficient or very able, acting on his own initiative.
There is a matter connected with this subject which the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned, and which I will venture to mention, because I think it is one of the things which is a little arguable, that is to say, the appointment of the permanent head of each of the Civil Departments. It used to be made, I suppose, a generation ago, by the Minister himself, but it came to be recognised, I think, that it was hardly wise to leave to the Minister, who might be, though a very admirable person, the chance product of an election, and not destined to be there very long, the full responsibility and full power of selecting the man who was to be the permanent head of a Department, it might be for 20 or 30 years hence; and so now, I believe, it is the constitutional practice that these appointments, though nominally made by each Minister, have to receive the concurrence of the Prime Minister of the day. And here comes the anomaly. The Prime Minister of the day is, we gather, advised by the permanent head of the Treasury. If that be the case, you have rather an anomalous position, because you have one head of a Department practically exercising a great deal of influence in the selection of all the other heads of Departments which happen to become vacant during his term of office. That is a state of things which I think is open to criticism. I must say, however, that I am afraid I do not know of any practical alternative. It is a great advantage that the appointment of a permanent head is not left completely to the choice of the accidental Minister of the day, and if there is going to he anybody joined with the Minister of the Department in making a selection it cannot be anybody else but the Prime Minister.
If the Prime Minister is to exercise any veto or influence in the appointments, he must take advice from somebody and from everybody he thinks fit, and the first person he would necessarily turn to would be the head of the Department which has, whether we like it or not, the supervision of the other Government Depart 304 ments on the mechanical side. Personally I do not see any alternative to the Prime Minister relying upon the advice of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury in regard to this practice of filling vacancies in all the other offices. I know that many people do not approve of some of the appointments which have been made, but I should not like to go back to the system by which the Minister for the time being exercised complete freedom to choose anyone he liked to become the permanent head of his office when he himself might only be in office for a few months.
I want to go back now to the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because I wish to add a few words about the position of the Civil Service. In the first place, I want to hear testimony, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to the high qualities of our Civil Service. Nothing strikes the foreigner, or those acquainted with the matter, so much as the fact that you have succeeding Governments in office, and each Government can rely not only upon their help but on the loyalty and zeal of the Civil Service. I and my colleagues have had the experience of coming as new people to offices which might legitimately have presumptions and traditions against us, and I am sure I am speaking for all my colleagues when I say that we have nothing to complain of in regard to the loyalty, fidelity and zeal with which we found ourselves assisted during our short period of office. I want to confirm what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to opening the Civil Service to competitive examination, because in no other way could you have secured such a uniform level of intellectual capacity, which is a guarantee against an inferior brand. I know they cannot all he the very best, but in this way by competition you are guaranteed against anybody being below a certain high level of efficiency, and you could not get that. result under any system of selection.
I wish to say, however, that the system of open competition has not been strictly adhered to, and there have been side doors into the Service which have not in my opinion worked at all well. It seems useful and convenient to have opportunities to bring in somebody who has not got through the gateway of public competi 305 tion, but it is extremely dangerous to break down the practice of open competition and we should look with jealous scrutiny upon the existence of those side doors.
There is much to be said in favour of not taking simply a written examination without considering the personality of the candidate, but any suggestion that you would get better men by allowing Boards of Examiners to choose the men they like to look at might cause class bias to come in. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Civil Service had had some restrictions placed upon it in recent years and no doubt hon. Members will be pressed to consider more restrictions in the future. When you have a Service 300,000 strong, it is a serious matter to think that they are to be excluded from performing political work. You cannot claim that they should be excluded from citizenship. I am aware that they are allowed more freedom now than they were 100 years ago but they require still more freedom. They want freedom to become candidates for local bodies. They want freedom to become candidates. for Parliament without being compelled to relinquish their appointments immediately they become candidates.
The right hon. Gentleman said that they ought not to hold direct communication with the outside world, but I think there always was a lot of cant about that matter, for I have known civil servants in high positions in my youth who held a great deal of communication with the outside world. It used to be, in my Civil Service days, only the subordinate who was not allowed those privileges, although I managed to take very considerable liberties in that respect. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I was so humble that no one knew I was a civil servant, and I was able to do a lot of things which otherwise I would not have been allowed to do. I agree that there must be some restriction upon that kind of public work, and I also agree that it is well if we can keep those. restrictions in the letter and the spirit rather than have very rigid rules. We allow officers of the Army and Navy to be candidates and Members of Parliament, but we do not allow the soldier to take any part in politics. I do not think we shall be able to keep non-commissioned officers in any 306 different position from a lieutenant in that matter in the very near future. and consequently I think those restrictions will have to he looked at with increasing care.
Then we are told that they have the advantage of security. We have heard of civil servants being got rid of quite summarily, without any reference to any misconduct on their part, because of reductions of establishment and otherwise. There has been considerable heartburn-lug created, and that matter of security has not quite been maintained at perfection. Then we are told that the civil servants get in some cases such enormous salaries—even more than their Ministers themselves. Really, on behalf of the civil servants I should like to say that these salaries, allowing for the cost of living and other things, have not risen to the very enormous heights some people would have you imagine. There are one or two cases of civil servants rising to £2,000 a year and even perhaps to £3,000 a year in the higher cases.
§ Mr. WEBB
It may be that these particular gentlemen arc worth more to the State. In fact, without particularising any Minister at all, I would say that it you take the market value of services—and I do nut want to take it—but if we are to take it, our leading civil servants can always obtain much larger salaries, beyond the dreams of the Treasury, as private citizens. That leads me to another point. I do not want our civil servants to be paid at the rate at which private enterprise pays its servants. I do not want the Government to raise its salaries for assistant secretaries to £15,000 a year, because one gentleman who was an assistant secretary is now reputed to be getting that salary in private enterprise. do not want that to be done. Still, I remember hearing of one civil servant, whose name is seen more often 'than that of any other civil servant, who was talking with his wife as to whether he could afford to keep all his children at school, and his name was on hundreds of millions of Treasury bills and notes. I will not say who it was. As a matter of fact, our civil servants are not adequately paid, at any rate, in some of the grades. Without discussing whether they should get 307 the rewards they would get in private enterprise, rewards I do not at all agree with, it is not good economy to the State that its servants should not have enough to maintain just that position in life which the State would wish them to maintain, and in that respect the civil servants have not really been properly treated. It is an evil that so many of our leading civil servants, when they retire, should retire to directorships or any other position in business. I think it is a very bad thing that a man who has been in a high position in the Civil Service should presently appear as a director of one of these companies which he may have been supervising.
I do not want to go any more into this matter, but I think we all approve the wording of the Motion, and I am quite prepared to support it. I cannot help feeling that we have got a treasure in our Civil Service, and we want to keep it. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it ought not to encroach on Parliament. But is it doing so? I suggest that the national business of the world could not be done without Miinisters relying constantly more and more on the Civil Service in doing their work.
§ Sir GEOFFREY BUTLER
I think of all the parts of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and who always speaks with great authority on matters of organisation of government, that which appealed to me most and that. with which he was in greatest agreement with the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) were those parts in which he was most human, for I believe his is a problem which can only be approached with success from the human point of view. The right hon. Baronet has demonstrated without possibility of denial that there has grown up very recently certain definite tendencies in the Civil Service about which we are waiting with considerable anxiety to hear an expression of view from the Treasury Bench.
Let the House be quite clear what exactly the right hon. Baronet did say and what he did not say. He never for a moment suggested that we should abolish Treasury control in that direction in which Treasury control is not only 308 necessary but axiomatic, that is, on the financial side. But if Treasury control is not in dispute, surely there are two. different ways in which that control may. be exercised. It may be the control of the First Lord of the Treasury or the other political chiefs of the Treasury acting, of course, through their permanent advisers; or, on the other hand, it may be the control of the permanent advisers acting on behalf of the First Lord and the other political chiefs. There is a great difference, for the one is a defining and limiting control which says to this Department,"You shall do this," and to that Department, "This shall be your scope." It says to this office,"You may have so much money,"and to another office,"You must draw in your horns." That is quite a different thing from a, pressure steadily exercised by permanent and unifying forces making for uniformity within the whole of the Service. I do not for a moment want to embark on the large question of the advantages of unitary or decentralised control, but I think any Member of the House who has read any of those very fascinating histories of the various Government Departments which have been recently published must have risen with a very vivid sense of the diversity of the history of our various Government Departments—the two original Secretaries of State for the Northern and Southern Departments, their successors the many Secretaries of State, the Presidents of the various Committees of the Privy Council, and so forth.
While one admits that financial control is necessary, and that it may be necessary to have an interchange of officials between one department and another, there is a certain glory in these diversified activities of our various Government Departments, and a stimulus and pride which comes from it to those who work in them. It was, I think, one of the unfortunate results of the War that we had a large number of new departments that were endowed with the abominable foreign name of "Ministry," which was never known before in that sense in our Constitution. What advantage at all do you get from calling the Board of Agriculture the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries? I have never been impressed by that title. I once spoke to the Noble Lord who is now Viceroy of India, and suggested to him that, to counteract it, he might insist 309 that the stenographers and typists in his department should be dressed as shepherdesses with crooks. Although I do not remember that any definite promise was given me by the Noble Lord on the point, I remember him saying that he was interested by the suggestion. Let us seek diversity rather than the dullness which comes from such centralisation as is not immediately necessary from the purely financial point of view.
This tendency to centralisation is not making the life of the ordinary civil servant more pleasant, and it is not too pleasant a life at the best. He is much and ignorantly attacked, but he is not immune from that inspiration which comes from the esprit de corpsof belonging to a Department which has a tradition of its own, in which he hopes to reap the proper rewards of promotion, and which he believes is engaged upon a perfectly definite task in the Government of our country. I do not think;hat my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury can deny the existence of the tendency to which the right hon. Baronet has referred, although, of course, he may explain it, and we are awaiting his explanation.
I have, in the past, been a very humble member of no fewer than three Government Departments, and have taken a very humble share in controversies with the Treasury; and it always struck me that, to individual civil servants, controversies with the Treasury provided that kind of discipline and medicinal advantages which the tourney had for the Knights of the Round Table in the days of yore. One did embark upon those controversies, in those days, assured that there was an element of hope that you might win your fight; and, if the controversy came to a deadlock, if you were up against a definite refusal of the Treasury, you always had your political chief or Secretary of State, who, if he thought the matter was important enough, might take it up with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary, and, if it were a really serious matter, it might become a Cabinet question. I mention these personal matters because I think we want to look at this subject from the point of view of the individual civil servant, and I do hope that the explanation of this new tendency will not be such that that kind 310 of operation will be made a very unusual and occasional practice. If so, I think there will be a certain deadening effect upon the individual members of the various departments which are concerned. It is not true to say that this is a case in which he who pays the piper calls the tune, because the Treasury does not pay the piper; it is the public that pays the piper, and if the Treasury is the channel through which the piper is paid, that does not give the Treasury an unchallengable control over the executive operations of the Civil Service, any more than you might argue that the Stationery Office has an unchallengable control over the length of minutes because it supplies the paper upon which they are written.
You can go to the very greatest authority, none other than Lord Welby himself, who was, as we are now taught to say, the Head of the Civil Service, and who, in 1886, put it on record that the Treasury did not claim more than financial control, and did not wish to flow over beyond financial control into executive control. This headship of the Treasury is a very small point, and it is not a new title, but the trouble of what I may call this Byzantinism is that it grows. Why do we want the tinsel of Byzantium in the bespatted corridors of our simpler Whitehall? It is the Head of the Treasury now; what may it he in 50 years? The mind goes through a terrible and awful succession of developrnent—the Elder Brother of the Bank Rate, the Lion of the Consolidated Fund —these are titles that our descendants may find claimed by the Head of the Treasury, and what can stop him unless now we definitely take the line that we are going to insist upon more austere and more Roman virtues and practices?
The right hon. Baronet has performed a very great service, I consider, in putting himself to the trouble of bringing this matter forward, not only in the House to-night but on several occasions before and in the public Press. I think ho has met with a response, so far, that has about it. those larger and bolder elements which the world acclaims as genius, because what Columbus did with the egg, n. Newton with the apple, the Treasury has done with the loss of the file of 1867. I would ask hon. Members to re-read history, furnishing the historic characters with the enormous 311 engine of this new machine in controversy—the donation of Constantine, the forged Decretals—genuine, but lost —the use by Von Bethinann-Hollweg of the clumsy expedient of talking of the "Scrap of Paper" when he might have said that he had lost the Belgian Treaty. At such methods of controversy the victims of them are aghast in admiration. I would only ask the Financial Secretary the practical question whether the search for this paper is still continuing? I have no doubt that it is. The Financial Secretary himself seems to be feeling a strain to a certain extent, and I am sure there are anxious clerks down at the office at half-past eleven in the morning, and that passers-by see at five o'clock p.m., the lights of the Treasury still flaring while this relentless pursuit of the paper is still continuing. The right hon. Baronet and myself are not furies determined to press this pursuit. It may be a waste of public time. Let the paper be lost, but do let us have a declaration which will put it on record that the Government are abandoning a position which is unsound in law and apparently unsound in history, a pronouncement which will, I believe, bring relief to the House, to the Civil Service, and to the nation at large.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just made so amusing and so admirable a speech that the House is much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) for raising this question. It seems to me to be a very useful service that is rendered to the House of Commons and the country if from time to time some Member who has been fortunate on the ballot on a Private Members' evening should invite us to consider what is the tendency that is to he seen by a calm examination of our methods of administration viewed over a series of years. That is what the right hon. Gentleman has really been doing. It is so easy to let time pass without observing that really a tendency which can be detected by delicate instruments of observation is already causing very considerable movements to be recorded, so that we have got very much further on a particular path than probably any of us had quite realised. I think the right hon. Gentle- 312 man entirely made out his proposition that there has been within the last generation a very considerable change in the direction he indicated, and he raises a very interesting question as to whether on the whole the change is for the good of the nation, and what our view ought to be about it. May I remind the House of a similar, though a, much more familiar, kind of question—a question which is very much discussed by constitutional historians and the like. The position of the Prime Minister himself has undoubtedly been changing, and it is still changing. Jonathan Swift was the first English writer who ever used the words"Prime Minister."He referred to Harley, I think, in that language, though he usually called him first Minister, and the earlier expression, First Minister, was a mere translation from the French.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that in this matter his recollection and mine coincide. My next sentence was going to be that any lion. Member who is interested, as I am, in reading Clarendon's "Autobiography" will know that 50 years before Clarendon objected to the idea that he should receive a pension on the basis that he was what was called First Minister, and he said the expression was recently translated from the French. But the actual phrase"Prime Minister"cannot be traced further back than Jonathan Swift. The commonplace of the history school is to say that Sir Robert 'Walpole was the first Prime Minister in the modern sense. Really, with all respect to people who know much more about it, I think the modern Prime Minister dates much later than that. Sir Robert Walpole did not choose his own colleagues. It is true that in the end he became the head of a very powerful administration, but chiefly by the method of getting rid of colleagues he did not like. For the function of a modern Prime Minister, that he should choose his own colleagues and that his advice to the King should, in fact, secure the composition of what we now call the Cabinet, we cannot go beyond the time of Walpole. There is a. well-known 313 passage in which Pitt, after a long experience as a Cabinet Minister, indeed as Prime Minister, said it was essential to the post that he should be first in the confidence of the King and be able to secure that his advice was accepted. But then Pitt was a fortunate man. I think the present Prime Minister will regard him as such. He only had six colleagues. The Cabinet consisted of seven, and several of them were in the House of Lords. Therefore, it is obvious that even so important a post as that of the Prime Minister has been changing, and it is extremely difficult to register the changes, and, indeed, it is a very curious thing, not always remembered, that. to this day the position of Prime Minister is quite unknown to the law. There is no salary attached to the position of Prime Minister.
It is very often said, I think not quite accurately, that there is no Act of Parliament which contains the words"Prime Minister."There is, as a matter of fact, one, though I only know one, and it only occurs in the Schedule. It is in the Statute known as the Chequers Estate Act. There is a reference in the Schedule to the Prime Minister. He is described as "the person holding the office popularly known as Prime Minister." So it is plain that even the head of the Government, to say nothing of the head of the Civil Service, is an office which in fact is changing its content and meaning as time goes on, and I am confident that the change has been increasing in my own lifetime, for instance, during the Coalition Government and later, to a very considerable, though probably not measured, extent.. There are only two documents formally emanating from the British State which use the words Prime Minister in a formal sense. Lord Beaconsfield, when he signed the Treaty of Berlin, signed it "Beaconsfield, Prime Minister of England," and the only other instance that occurs to me is that when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was appointed to the office at the end of 1905, King Edward issued letters patent which gave the person holding the office of Prime Minister a place in precedence next after, I think, the Archbishop of York. Our constitution is really developing imperceptibly and slowly under the pressure of a number of forces many of which are quite. unidentified or unmeasured at the time, and it is 314 not in the least surprising that when you come to this particular aspect of constitutional development you should find a good deal of controversy.
There appears to be one perfectly obvious reason—it may seem rather trumpery but it is quite effective—why it cannot be historically and constitutionally correct to say that the Prime Minister, when he approves the suggestion of a colleague that so and so should be the head of some other department, proceeds upon the advice of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. The Prime Minister is not necessarily always the First Lord of the Treasury at all. Lord Salisbury was not. He was Foreign Minister. The great Lord Chatham was not. He was Lord Privy Seal. There is no constitutional or legal principle that the first Minister, the head of the Government-, should in fact be the First Lord of the Treasury at all. There is indeed very good strong tradition that he should be, and no doubt it is very convenient, although the actual reasons for it are not as great as they used to be. Fox declared that the man who held the headship of the Treasury was bound to be the most important Minister in the State because he held the patronage, and the real truth is that in the 17th and 18th centuries it was necessary that the principal Minister should be the head of the Treasury because it was out of the Treasury that the secret service money was paid and support of the Government on suitable occasions was secured. That is the real historical reason that planted the first Minister at the Treasury in ancient days. No one suggests that that is the reason to-day. The tradition therefore is a very deep seated one. It is obvious that it cannot be historically or constitutionally correct to say the Prime Minister in these matters relies upon the advice of the permanent head of the Treasury because it is really an accident that it is the Prime Minister who is himself in the commission of the Treasury rather than holding some other office in the State.
If I may draw upon my own recollection, limited as it is, I am fairly confident that even within my own experience it has not been the case that in any formal or constitutional sense the most eminent public servant who is at the head of the Treasury has been regarded as having some special prerogative to 315 supervise or approve appointments in other departments. I cannot help thinking the way it really works is this. In a modern Cabinet, where there is confidence between colleagues, the truth of the matter is that a Secretary of State—say the Secretary of State for the Home Department—does informally consult the Prime Minister about a great many matters upon which the mere law of the land does not require him to consult his chief. He takes a suitable occasion; he finds five minutes that his chief the Prime Minister is able to give him, and he says to him that such and such an important thing in his Department has to be decided and he is proposing to decide it in such and such a way. That is not only courtesy and the obvious duty which a subordinate owes to his chief, but. it is the natural way in which colleagues between whom there is confidence behave. It is the characteristically British way. The occasions when there has been trouble between one Minister and another on the subject of a particular appointment to one of the permanent offices are, I am sure, extremely rare; but I cannot help thinking that the real principle is, not that there is some constitutional duty or right in the permanent servant in one department to recommend or supervise appointments of this sort, but that the thing naturally develops in that sort of way, because every Minister would desire, before he decides a very important matter, to let his chief know what he is doing, and it would he a very extreme measure to suppose that he would go contrary to his wishes.
But let it be clearly understood that the Prime Minister does' not appoint his colleagues at all Every member of the Cabinet is equally appointed by the King. Though it be perfectly true that the Prime Minister recommends to His Majesty this or that gentleman for such and such an office, once he is so appointed I apprehend that the 'responsibility of a Cabinet Minister is primarily to his Sovereign and to this House, and not to the Prime Minister as such at all. Take an instance which has occurred within living memory, when there has been, as there has been once or twice, the death or the resignation of a Prime Minister without there being any change in the composition of the House of Commons—as happened, for example, when Mr. 316 Gladstone resigned and Lord Rosebery took his place, or when Mr. Balfour, as he then was, succeeded Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister. That did not involve constitutionally the resignation of every other Minister of the Crown, because each of them held his office from the King; and though, of course, of the constitution the Cabinet is such, and the confidence existing between its members is such, that there must be constant consultation, and every member submits himself to the advice of the Prime Minister on all propel occasions, it is historically and constitutionally quite wrong to suppose that. the Prime Minister has got that sort of control over his colleagues which some people are disposed to imagine.
Therefore, I am very much disposed to think that the right hon. Gentleman, if I may be permitted to say so, on the historical and constitutional sides is quite right. But that does not by any means exhaust the matter. The real difficulty is the difficulty on which;le right hon. Gentleman the Member for Scaham (Mr. Webb) put his finger. What are you going to do? You will not find that there would be approval of the idea that a subordinate Minister —I mean a Minister not holding an office of the first order—should be able to saddle the country for a generation with a particular civil servant of his choice without telling anyone else, and no Minister would ever do it. He would always consult his colleagues, the Prime Minister in particular, and I have no doubt that for that reason the practice has grown up that the Prime Minister is informed. It is not, of course, to be wondered at that the Prime Minister might desire to get the wise advice of somebody or other, and that the gentleman who holds the most responsible post at the head of the Treasury might be one of those whom he might like to consult is probable enough.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right when he says that that does not proceed from any constitutional priority or position which has been awarded to some particular civil servant, however important, but that it is rather due to the fact that our Constitution works in this rather familiar, informal way, with the very great advantage that the Prime Minister really consults the person or persons whom he knows to be best able to give him wise 317 advice on the subject.. I am, therefore, for my part, very grateful to my right hon. Friend for having:raised this subject. I agree with what has been said by both the other speakers that the terms of the Resolution are quite unobjectionable. There is one aspect he has not touched upon—but it is covered by its words—which, I think, is most important to the topic he has raised. There is an undoubted tendency in the last 10 or 15 years to increase to a rapid and, I think, to a most dangerous extent what is in effect legislation by Departmental Order. I have seen it in my own Parliamentary lifetime growing quite clearly. If you want to put your finger on one moment which was a critical moment, it was the 7th of August, 1914. It was a Friday. The House of Commons, sitting three days after the outbreak of war, at one sitting passed through the Defence of the Realm Bill—First Reading, Second Reading, Committee and Third Reading, at one sitting, and as you, Sir, may perhaps remember, they passed it without a single Member of the House of Commons ever having a copy of that Bill in his hand. It had not been printed, and it had to be read from that Box by the then Home Secretary from a typewritten copy. I remember at the time the Home Secretary said that something of the sort was needed, because we would need to have summary methods if any attempt were made to blow up bridges or tap telegraph wires.
That was the original conception. See to what it has grown! In the course of four or five years that Act and amending Acts were responsible for an immense pile of Regulations, so elaborate that I do not believe that even in the Departments themselves there was any certainty as to their terms, and a great many people, lawyers and laymen alike, lost their way in them. What is quite certain is that. that method, which could only be justified as a method in the pinch of war, is a method which the House of Commons has never sufficiently retrieved. We are more and more content to pass Acts of Parliament which are to be worked by rules and regulations and orders which, as we used to say, would be laid on the Table of the House of Commons. In the old days they were to be laid on the Table of the House of Commons for 40 days when 318 this House was sitting, and on any one of those days any Member could put down an Address asking that the particular Order should be delayed. That was exempted business that could be taken after eleven o'clock to any hour as long as a House could be kept. The House of Commons had real control over this subordinate law-making authority which is to be found in every Department of the Crown.
The 40 days has shrunk to 21, and sometimes even less. In the Electricity Bill I believe there is a provision that leaves no certain time at all. It does seem to me, in connection with this question of what part the Civil Service should play in the Government of the country, that it is wholly relevant to point out that we are moving along lines which really in effect impose on the community at large an immense body of law that has never been passed by the House of Commons at all. There is a story abort Napoleon Bonaparte that when he was First Consul a constitution was drawn up—a very short and vague constitution—which said some things were to be done by law, and some by rule or réglement. Napoleon asked one of his colleagues what was law and what was réglement.. His colleague said that law was the general rule made by those who governed, and that réglement. was only the special application of the law. As a passage from a book by a former Clerk of this House, Sir Courtenay Ilbert, says, it caused Bonaparte to smile a sardonic smile, and he asked for no more information.
We are really in danger of finding that rules are drawn up almost without the knowledge of the political chiefs of the Departments and are essentially the product of civil servants and have never been passed by this House at all. All those reasons make me think that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Henry Craik) has done a great service by calling attention to this question. I associate myself with what he said as to our great pride in the Civil Service itself. I was touched by his eloquent claim that a great civil servant who spent many years in the service of the country might not attain to a position of great popularity or notoriety or even great financial advantage, but, none the less, had the great satisfaction of feeling that he had played a tremendous part in the just administration of the land. Those 319 famous lines could be well applied to the civil servant:Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,Nor in the glistering foil, set off to the world,Nor in broad rumour lies.That is the sort of fame the Civil Service has succeeded in enjoying to the great pride of us all. But I do not want to see this tendency to allow the Civil Service to overstep its proper boundary grow. It is essential to democratic government that Ministers should be responsible to the King and he able to answer here.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has made, as he always does, an extremely interesting speech, and I thought I was able to detect at certain points a shadowy connection with the subject brought forward by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik). The greater part of the speech was a historical disquisition on the growth of the position of Prime Minister and 'Cabinet Government. I think the connection between that and the Motion under discussion was not very close. The latter part of his speech was an arraignment, with which I am personally inclined to agree, against the prevalence at the present time of legislation by Departmental Order. That had nothing whatever to do with the Motion, because that class of legislation is not legislation by the Civil Service, But is only legislation in which they assist in an administrative capacity, and the responsibility is the same in every other respect as in legislation which Ministers bring forward in this House. The right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) asked me—and I think also the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler)—what the Government thought of this Motion. Well, it is very difficult for anyone to object to this Motion. In fact, my first inclination, on seeing it. was to think that the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities having as I learned from the newspapers, for the first time in his long career in this House been fortunate enough to win the Ballot and bring 320 forward a Motion, had taken a real plunge into the obvious. I agree, I think with every proposition in the Motion. I certainly agree that the Civil Service has merited the gratitude of the nation.Its continued efficiency depends upon the control of that Service by His Majesty's Ministers responsible to this House"—I agree with that—upon the strict maintenance of its Constitutional position as a subordinate branch of administration"—I agree with that—and upon the continuance of those traditions by which it has been animated. in the past"—I agree with that. Those are all the propositions in this Motion. There is one word, however, to which I take exception. All those propositions are preceded by a"but." That word "but" implies that all these traditions are violated at the present time, and, indeed, the speech of the right hon. Member obviously meant that a system had grown up under which they were being violated. The hon. Member for Cambridge University used a vaguer phrase, and said a tendency had grown up. A tendency is a very difficult thing to handle, and it is difficult to say exactly how it is to be tackled by a responsible Minister. One of the most famous civil servants spoke of "a tendency not ourselves which makes for righteousness. "It would he almost as difficult to tackle his tendency as to attack or comment on Matthew Arnold's definition of the Divinity. The real point the right hon. Member who brought forward the Motion seems to me to have missed, or rather not to have been quite clear about, is as to the responsibility of the Prime Minister. I understood him to assert that it is with the Prime Minister that responsibility for the administration of the Civil Service in all its branches rests, but that is not what he has said elsewhere.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I said we all accepted unanimously and loyally the theory that the Prime Minister had a supreme control over the general conduct of the officers through his colleagues, who are His Majesty's Ministers, but not through any member of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I had in my mind the question which the right hon. Member put to the Prime Minister on the 18th February, in which he says:and that he"—that is, the civil servant—will not be allowed to interfere with the internal affairs of any office for which the Minister in charge of that office is solely responsible to His Majesty in this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1926; col. 2094, Vol. 191.]I would ask my right hon. Friend how that proposition, as to the Departmental Minister being solely responsible to His Majesty in this House, squares with his view as to the supreme responsibility of the Prime Minister for all Departments?
§ Sir H. CRAIK
Surely that is a mere quibble about words. I was speaking perfectly clearly in giving a contrast between the Prime Minister's responsibility as against that of a permanent civil servant. To bring in this little point which is now raised by the right hon. Gentleman, in order to show that I do not think the Prime Minister is supreme, seeing that in the previous sentence I stated that I acknowledged he was supreme over all Ministers, is such a quibble that I refuse to be drawn into it. I think it is contemptible.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am quite satisfied to have got out of the right hon. Gentleman what is his mind. I understand now that his doctrine is that really it is the Prime Minister who is responsible. In that I entirely agree. Now I will come to the question of his relations with the civil servant. My right hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Member for Sven Valley seemed to think that the responsibility of the Prime Minister in this matter was something new. The right hon. and learned Gentleman drew an inference from the fact that in modern times the Prime Minister had not always been First. Lord of the Treasury, exactly the opposite from the inference that I should be inclined to have drawn.
I can show very easily, if anyone doubts it, that the responsibility of the Prime Minister for the whole of the Civil Service goes back, at all events, to as early as Sir Robert Peel. The Civil Service itself, 322 in the modern sense, is rather a new thing. I think it was in 1843 or 1844 that for the first time there were Civil Service Estimates in the modern sense. It is not yet 100 years since the expense of what we now call the Civil Service was taken off the Civil List of the King. As early as 1850, when there was a Select Committee on official salaries, Sir Robert Peel then laid it down that the Prime Minister was responsible for all patronage, for the disposal of all patronage. He was not speaking of patronage in the wider sense, ecclesiastical patronage and so forth. The examination of the Committee was directed to what we now mean by Civil Service appointments, and Sir Robert Peel laid it down as a general proposition that the Prime Minister was responsible for the disposal of all patronage.
I cannot say definitely at what date the Prime Minister, in the exercise of that responsibility, began to look to the Treasury or to the Secretary to the Treasury as his adviser. I am astonished at my right hon. Friend's view with regard to the replies given to his questions on this subject of the Secretary to the Treasury. I did not quite follow what he meant when he said that there was a tendency on the part of the Civil Service now to encroach upon the legislative and judiciary functions.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is in the House, because my right hon. Friend made that a particular charge against the Coalition, be said that a damnosa hereditasof the Coalition was this terrible encroachment of the Civil Service upon the legislative and judicial functions.
§ Mr. McNEILL
No. I do not think I am any more inclined to defend the Coalition than is my right hon. Friend. I am not going to do so. I merely mention it for the information of the head of the Coalition, who is now in the House. And my right hon. Friend, with some indignation, said in his speech that this was the moment they put forward a new claim for one individual which has no shred of constitutional justification.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Then he went on to allude, with his customary dexterity and grace, to the unfortunate loss of papers in 1867, and without making any definite charge, indicated some scepticism as to whether these papers had ever been in existence.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
Not in the least; I said that perhaps they might have diminished in historical value.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not know how papers can be diminished in historical value except by supposing that they have never been in existence.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Then the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler) supported that reference to the lost papers of 1867, apparently also thinking that they had little historical value.
§ Sir G. BUTLER
On the contrary, desired that the Treasury should be given no further trouble, and given instructions that a search should no longer he made into the matter.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I thank my hon. Friend for his anxiety, but I can assure him that there is no need for that search to go on. I am a little surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), not only to-night, but by questions addressed to the Prime Minister and in a letter to the "Times" should have committed himself to a very curious doctrine on this point. In his letter to the "Times," and in his speech here to-day, he talks of a new style, a habit of speaking of the "head of the Civil Service" which has crept into Parliamentary language, crept into the reply of the Prime Minister, a style which had never appeared in any official document before—a perfectly unknown development apparently dating from the time of the Coalition. I can only suppose that my right hon. Friend, who was a great ornament in the Civil Service, as he has told us to-night—
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to quote my words correctly. I did not, say that I was a great ornament of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I have never made any such accusation. There is no more modest person in this House than my right hon. Friend. That was my own remark, and I repeat it: he was an ornament to the Civil Service. My right hon. Friend, during the time that be was in the Civil Service, discharged his functions in a most important office, as we very well know, with very great distinction.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Do you mean by that, Mr. Speaker, that I must physically turn to the Chair? The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was quoting Disraeli or Beaconsfield just now. I remember very well the advice that Disraeli gave to every Member of Parliament, that his words should be addressed to the Speaker while he looked at the Clock. I do not want to turn my back on my right hon. Friend while I am dealing with his Motion, hut at the same time, of course, Mr. Speaker, I wish to obey your instructions. I must apparently be that well-known character in the Pilgrim's Progress, Mr. Facing-both-Ways. My right hon. Friend, all the time that he was in the Civil Service, and all the time that he has been in this House since, has been under the impression that the Secretary to the Treasury was not the head of the Civil Service. As we know, the lost papers of 1867 have no value in his eyes. I cannot, of course, recover those papers, but I can give what, I think, is really good evidence as to the situation at that time. By 1872 it had become the definitely established practice, which was not questioned, that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury was the head of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am afraid that my right hon. Friend on this particular point is in that state of mind that no evidence will convince him. I will, at any rate, quote what I have in my hand, the volume 325 of "Hansard" for April, 1872. On the 5th of April in that year there was a Debate in this House on official salaries. I will give a short extract from the end of that Debate. A Mr. Rylands, who was speaking, said:The difference which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would avoid already existed, because the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, whose position was the same as that of an Under-Secretary of State, had £2,000 for five years, and then a maximum of £2,500; and yet the other Under-Secretaries had not applied for any increase of salary.The then Chancellor of the Exchequer saidThe Secretary of the Treasury was not an Under-Secretary of State. He was at the head of the Civil Service.At that date it was so stated at this Box by a Minister of the Crown. No one challenged it, and no one suggested that the phrase had suddenly crept in—that it was a new-fangled notion, that there was anything unconstitutional in it; and I believe that from that date to this it has never been challenged.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
The question then was whether the Secretary to the Treasury should have a higher salary than other officials, and whether he was to be looked upon as the doyen of the Service. But in 1886 Lord Welby, then Sir Richard Welby, in his evidence before a Commission distinctly repudiated any such power in the secretary to the Treasury as is now suggested, or any power over other offices except financially.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Then it is a question as to whether the House considers the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—unchallenged at the time—or that of Lord Welby as having the higher authority. [Interruption.] I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will allow me to speak at all. I did not interrupt him, although I disagreed with him strongly, but if I may be allowed to proceed, I will point out that it is rather curious that he quotes an authority from 1886, and I find Todd's "Parliamentary Government in England," published in 1889, referring to the Treasury, uses these words:The Permanent Secretary is the official head of the Department and of the whole Civil Service.I take it, that is really the position occupied by the permanent head of the Treasury, and the only question arising on 326 this Motion is whether or not the relations between the Secretary to the Treasury as head of the Civil Service, and the Prime Minister, are in any way objectionable.. I think the answer on that point, given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, seems to be perfectly conclusive. The Prime Minister has to exercise his responsibility which, as I have shown, is fully established. He is responsible for all patronage as also for all appointments throughout the Civil Service; and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) explained, the Civil Service has enormously grown during the last half century. There are new Departments, the old Departments have grown, the work is more complex, the appointments are more specialised, and the difficulty of securing the right man for the right place must be much greater. The Prime Minister, being responsible, must have some definitely recognised adviser in the matter. My right hon. Friend says the last person by whom the Prime Minister should be advised is a great civil servant.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Surely my right hon. Friend must see that that is an utterly untenable position. Every Departmental Minister is advised by his own permanent officials. Does my right hon. Friend imagine that the Foreign Secretary never goes to any of the officials of the Foreign Office for advice upon anything? Does he imagine for a moment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer carries on his office without ever asking the advice of any of the experts of the Treasury? Surely it stands to reason that every Departmental Minister seeks advice day by day—which he may take or not take as he chooses—from the experts of his Department. They have experience of the working of the office, very often much greater than that of the political chief who may be there to-day and gone to-morrow. That advice is given equally freely, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Webb) said, and equally loyally to whatever political party the political chief belongs; and just in the same way, in exercising the larger control which falls upon the Prime Minister for the service as a whole, and for all Departments, he must have at his elbow some one person who is his recognised official adviser in that regard.
327 It is quite true he is not confined to that one adviser. If a great appointment is to be made in some Department, no doubt the Prime Minister and the Departmental Minister consult, and they may ask advice from whom they choose. But at all events, as the permanent head of the Treasury has been for more than half a century recognised as the head of the Civil Service, and as the Treasury has been gradually growing more into the position of the pivotal Department in a great Service, exercising a certain limited but still definite control over them all, it is the most natural thing in the world, at whatever date it may have originated, that the adviser of the Prime Minister in regard to those appointments throughout the Civil Service should be the permanent head of the Treasury.
Supposing one of the higher appointments at the Admiralty, the Home Office, or the Foreign Office fall vacant. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend still thinks that, as was no doubt true at an earlier time—when any Department was not only a Department but a watertight compartment, under a Departmental chief—all promotions should be confined to those who had been for years in that particular Department. If the Service is to be one Service throughout, arid a vacancy at the Home Office may perhaps be filled by some conspicuously able civil servant from the Board of Trade or some other Department, there must he some official who, more than others, is in touch with and has knowledge of all the various Departments, who are those of conspicuous ability, who have a reputation and a prestige, and whose names naturally would be brought forward for preferment. He has all that knowledge, and he places it, when it is wanted, at the disposal of the Prime Minister and of the head of the Department where the vacancy occurs.
I do not know, but I presume that what happens then is that the recommendation is made to the Prime Minister by the head of the Department where the vacancy occurs, the advice of the Secretary to the Treasury is asked for, it. may be either followed or not followed, as the case may be, and then the appointment is made, presumably through the channel, at all events, of the departmental head of that particular Department. That 328 would be the machinery by which these larger appointments are made, and it appears to me to be entirely constitutional. I do not believe it is newfangled, and even if it were comparatively new-fangled, it appears to me that it is absolutely inevitable and essential, when you have regard to the great size, importance, and complexity of the modern Government administration in all its branches.
Before I sit down, I must endorse most thoroughly what my right hon. Friend said at the outset of his speech with regard to the quality of the Civil Service, both in the past and, I maintain, in the present. I agree, and I was very glad to hear the very liberal praise of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I believe that every political party in turn, as they become familiar with the workings of the great Government Departments, if a Debate of this sort occurs in the House, one after the other, as time goes by, will get up and pay the same tribute to the great civil servants whose loyalty, zeal, knowledge, and industry are absolutely essential to the proper carrying on of the Government of the day, and all equally at the disposal of any political chief, perfectly regardless of what his political opinions may be.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think perhaps conspicuously in the Foreign Office, and, if I recollect rightly, no one has said so with more emphasis than the right hon. Gentleman who leads the party opposite and who was at the Foreign Office. I have only one word more to say, and it is this: I was particularly glad that my right hon. Friend was careful to say that in nothing that he said did he make any reflection at all upon the present occupant of the post of Secretary to the Treasury. I believe that that was a compliment which was deserved, to make it clear that no reflection was cast upon him. I have not long been privileged to know much of the present occupant of the office, but I do claim to know something of him now, and I must say I cannot imagine any individual of whom it would be less appropriate to say, as my right hon. Friend said, I think, in his letter to the "Times," that he had arrogated to himself some functions. I cannot imagine 329 anyone less likely to arrogate to himself anything to which he was not entitled than the present Secretary of the Treasury, and I am very glad to join with my right hon. Friend in paying a very high tribute to his loyalty and ability.
§ Sir ALFRED HOPKINSON
We have listened to an interesting Debate, full of interesting reminiscences and allusions, which have been extremely instructive to some of us who have not been very long within these walls. I now suggest that we should come back to the question, what are we going to do with this Motion? On that point, the result of the Debate, I submit, is perfectly clear. It is that this Motion should be passed unanimously by the whole House. We have had the great advantage of hearing the opinion of the Treasury Bench with regard to it. It has been said that on reading the Motion, the Motion is obviously right, and yet that seems to be regarded as some reason why it should not be passed. A wise man said that it is the obvious of which we need often to be reminded. It is the obvious to which we should have our attention called from time to time, and we are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion for having called our attention to it. We have the great advantage that commendation of this Motion has come from all parts of the House, and we are not disturbed by the feeling that we should act in any way in opposition to the views of the Government by voting for it.
In order to carry a Motion of this kind, two things would appear to me to be necessary. The first is that it should point out some real evils, and, in the second place, it should point out some possible remedies for those evils. The Motion before us appears to be carefully directed to those objects. It points out that it is necessary, as the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has said, that we should take stock from time to time of whither we are tending. It is of the utmost importance that we should see how the Constitution is working. Changes which come here will not be sudden, revolutionary changes, but the changes which take place constitutionally, and it is very desirable that we should point out when dangerous tendencies arise. If there are three 330 things which are important in our Constitution, they are these: First, the purity and excellence of our Civil Service; the second, the purity and independence of our Judicial Bench; and the third, the supreme power of the Houses of Parliament in deciding on any question. Every one of these is a precious inheritance, of which we ought to take the utmost care, especially when there are risks that You may have a permanent Civil Service, by its very honourable character and by its efficiency, extending its jurisdiction.
Stress has been laid upon the importance of the Minister who makes an appointment being absolutely independent and deciding the appointment himself. Of course, any Minister who makes an appointment of that kind does not choose a man in an arbitrary manner. He is responsible to this House, and in addition to that one of the best things he can do is to look round in his own Department to see what men there are who have earned their laurels by competence. There have been cases in which men have been appointed who have clone excellent work previously in their own Departments, and there are traditions in each Government Department which I am sure it would be wise to observe.
We wish to make it perfectly clear that as regards the position of the Civil Service as a whole, it must be a subordinate position. We do not want Ministers coming to this House and saying that certain things are necessary, and then practically giving away a large amount of the control of this House over such matters. We ought to be very jealous of the complete legislative power of this House. I was rather shocked not long ago to hear a new Member, when referring to the case of useful legislation being brought forward by a Prime Minister, say that the reason for not proceeding with it was that it was brought in by a private Member. Private Members should be jealous of their rights. I take it that the result of the passing of this Resolution will be that the civil servant will be placed in a subordinate position to the Minister. This is all the more important because Acts of Attainder are no longer possible and Tower Hill has no terrors for those who sit here. Whatever is brought forward here by the Government the Minister has to stand the shock of it, and there is no power 331 behind the Throne to which he can appeal. He must face all the arguments brought against the policy he brings forward. Let us be jealous of our legislative powers, and let the Ministers be jealous of their responsibility, in order that the Civil Service may remain, as in the past, an honoured service. Therefore, let us pass this Resolution and pass it at once.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to add two or three words upon this Resolution. I do not quite agree with the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down that this Resolution is simply laying down a series of general propositions with regard to the position which the Civil Service ought to maintain towards this House and towards legislation. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the introduction in the Resolution of the word "but," if it means anything, means that the Civil Service at the present moment is not maintaining its strict constitutional position as a. subordinate branch of the Administration, and that it is not continuing those traditions by which it has been animated in the past. I do not see the point of introducing that word unless it involves a censure upon the Civil Service. That is a very serious thing for the House to pass without some more evidence than we have heard in the course of this Debate as to the action which has been taken by any individual in that Service. I had not the pleasure of hearing the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), but I have taken the trouble to inquire what he said. I have heard the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and, speaking from such experience as I have, it seems to me that he stated with great fairness the practice of the Civil Service, at any rate, during the last 20 years.
The Prime Minister of the day has to rely on some adviser in the functions which he has to discharge, apart from all other Ministers. I was Chancellor of the Exchequer for seven or eight years, and the Prime Minister of the day had to make a good many appointments in other Departments. With those appointments I was not in the least concerned as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Prime Minister of the day had to send 332 for the head of the Treasury to consult him upon matters with which I was not concerned in the least. The head of the Treasury was his principal adviser, and to talk of this as if it were something which arose in 1919 is not in the least true. From all I can gather it has been the practice in modern times. I do not believe Lord Oxford initiated the practice. Who else could advise the Prime Minister of the day? He could not act on his own initiative. It is for him to decide whether he will sanction the appointment of the permanent heads of other Departments. The permanent heads of other Departments can only be appointed—I am not sure whether it is an appointment direct by the Prime Minister—with the sanction of the Prime Minister. Promotion inside a Department is generally left to the head of that Department, but when you come to the permanent head of a Department then either it is the appointment of a Prime Minister or at any rate the Prime Minister is consulted and the responsibility is his. How is he to know? He must consult someone who knows the Civil Service thoroughly. Who is he to consult? By the practice during all the time I was in office—and I was in office 17 years holding one office or another—the head of the Treasury was the only adviser to whom the Prime Minister of the day could resort for advice on that subject. I have never heard that there has been any new practice. The right hon. Gentleman referred to something in 1919, when the present Foreign Secretary was Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he initiated no new practice—none. I cannot imagine what the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind. It is an old practice. I knew perfectly well the Prime Minister of the day was sending for the permanent head of the Treasury who was my chief adviser in all matters relating to the Treasury, and I knew that on this question it was something which was outside my purview altogether, and that he was the adviser of the Prime Minister, and I never interfered in 'it. What departure has there been from that practice at the present moment? I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he said in his speech that these matters are becoming more and more important, and that, therefore, the responsibility of the head of the Treasury 333 is becoming greater in his anxious task; but I am perfectly certain that the present head of the Treasury is the last man in the world to arrogate to himself any functions which are not his strict duty and responsibility. I cannot imagine what possible complaint there can be in regard to the references which were made to other organisations. That has nothing to do whatever with this matter, but I do think it is a very serious matter for the House of Commons to pass a Resolution which, by implication, casts a reflection upon the Civil Service. [interruption.] I ask anyone to read this Resolution fairly and say that it does not mean, especially in view of the speeches which have been delivered to explain it, that there is a suggestion here that the Civil Service have gone outside their functions, have not maintained their high traditions, and have not behaved as if they were subordinate to the administration. If they have increased their control, that is not their fault; it is because Parliament has imposed new duties and new powers upon them. If it is the fault of anyone, it is the fault of the Legislature. There is no doubt at all that during recent years enormous duties have been cast upon the Civil Service which, in the old days, the Civil Service were not expected to discharge, but which Parliament has invited them to discharge. That is not an act of insubordination on their part. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) referred to the question of Regulations. I remember that a very witty member of the Board of Customs once gave the order in which he revered the various authorities above him. He said:First and foremost comes the Order of the Board; secondly comes a Minute of the Treasury; thirdly conies an Act of Parliament; and fourthly, and lastly, the word of God.I have no doubt at all that that may be the attitude, but it is a very old attitude of the Civil Service, and that is an old saying which goes back far beyond the days of the Coalition. I never, however, heard a suggestion that the Civil Service had taken upon themselves any functions which had not been imposed upon them by Act of Parliament. The suggestion that they are taking upon themselves the authority of government is not true. Everybody who 334 has held office under the Crown knows perfectly well that there is no more loyal body of men. Without distinction of party, they have served faithfully the Minister of the day.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am not going into any questions of that kind. There may be questions of that kind, but, in the main, I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, who have had some experience, will say that, although they came into office as a party for the first time, the men who served under them served them as faithfully as they served either a Liberal or a Conservative Government. They took their directions from the Minister of the day; there was no attempt at insubordination; and I think it would be very unfair to condemn the whole Civil Service, by implication, upon grounds which are quite inadequate. As far as I am concerned, if this goes to a vote, I shall certainly feel it nay duty, as an old Minister of the Crown, who found the Civil Service perfectly loyal during the whole of the time he had to depend upon them, to vote against the Resolution.
§ Sir H. CRAIKrose in his place, and claimed to move,"That the Question be now put."
That, in the opinion of this House, the Civil Service has merited the gratitude of the nation, but that its continued efficiency depends upon the control of that Service by His Majesty's Ministers responsible to this House, upon the strict maintenance of its Constitutional position as a subordinate branch of administration, and upon the continuance of those traditions by which it has been animated in the past.