HL Deb 19 July 1877 vol 235 cc1477-90

My Lords, I rise to make one or two remarks upon a Resolution passed by the other House, which is on your Table, and which has been transmitted to us in the usual manner. That Resolution, my Lords, is a censure upon the conduct of the Government with respect to a public appointment recently made. My Lords, the immediate question before us arose in this manner. There was about the time when the present Government was formed—now more than three years ago—one of the Departments of the State which was not deemed to be administered in a manner entirely satisfactory to the public. A Committee was appointed by the House of Commons to inquire, among other matters, into the general state and conduct of business of that Department. That Committee, after receiving a great deal of evidence, issued a Report of interest and value. My Lords, I do not think that there is anyone who more values the labours of Parliamentary Committees than myself. They obtain for the country an extraordinary mass of valuable information which probably would not otherwise be at hand, or available; and formed as they necessarily are of chosen men from the two most important bodies of the State, their Reports are pregnant with prudent and sagacious suggestions for the improvement of the administration of affairs. My Lords, I have spent the greater part of my life in Parliament, and it has frequently been my duty—always my delight—to vindicate the rights and privileges of Parliament. I have sometimes been charged, indeed, with having taken an extravagant view of those rights and privileges, but I think charged unjustly. But, my Lords, I never for a moment have maintained, nor do I know any personal or written authority that has maintained, that the Resolutions of a Committee of the House of Commons were infallible. My Lords, I think you will see that if that were admitted, the utmost disorder and inconvenience must be occasioned in the administration of public affairs. In the first place, it would entirely destroy the responsibility of Ministers. If, when a public question arises, all that a Minister has to do is to propose a Parliamentary Committee to inquire into it, and if when that Committee has reported, all that he has to do is to incorporate their unimpeachable suggestions in a Bill, and afterwards an Act of Parliament, the House will at once see in what a position of difficulty—of disaster I might say—the Administration and even the legislation of the country might be placed. In the present instance, this Committee offered to the consideration of the country their opinions on all the points connected with the administration of the Department in question, and they offered them in considerable detail. I think the number of Resolutions at which they arrived with regard to that Department were not less than 50. Some of these Resolutions—I may say many of these Resolutions—were adopted by the Govern- ment, and have been found to work advantageously. Some of these Resolutions were adopted by the Government; but, in their operation, have not been successful, and they have therefore been abandoned. Some of these Resolutions were disregarded after due and deep consideration by the Government. The Department in question, my Lords, is that of the Public Stationery, and the office in question is that of its Controller. Among the Resolutions which were disregarded after the deepest consideration by the Government, was a Resolution that when the office of Controller again became vacant the person appointed to that office should possess the requisite technical knowledge of stationery and printing. My Lords, at the commencement of this Spring this office did become vacant. I was made aware of it by the courtesy of the gentleman who held the office some time before his resignation was formally announced. He told mo of it, I doubt not, from a consideration of the difficulties which were likely to attend the new appointment, and in order that the Government might have ample time to consider the matter. It fell to my lot, my Lords, to fulfil that duty—a difficult one, I assure you. I had to consider, therefore, the recommendation of the Committee of the House of Commons that the new Controller should possess "the requisite technical knowledge of stationery and printing." Now, my Lords, when I considered that Resolution, and when I made some inquiries respecting it, I found that it was one which, as it appeared to me, was utterly impracticable. No doubt, my Lords, there are gentlemen connected with the great private establishments for the sale of stationery in all its forms and descriptions, who possess the intelligence, the education, and the character which would render them perfectly competent to occupy this post in the administration of the business of the country. But your Lordships will see in a moment that persons connected with great commercial transactions, employing a vast capital, and getting a great return for it, could not be tempted to accept a post which, however honourable, is one with nothing of the glare of distinction about it, and the salary of which hardly exceeds the salary of a first-rate clerk or manager in a first-rate commercial establishment. Now, my Lords, what would be the consequence of such a position of affairs? To appoint a person who has technical knowledge of stationery and printing—that is te say, to appoint a stationer or a printer—I should have had to appoint some person who had retired from business, or some person from whom business had retired. My Lords, I felt the impossibility of dealing in such a manner with the situation—I could not undertake the responsibility of asking a decayed stationer or printer to fill a post of this character. My Lords, the post is one which requires considerable administrative ability—it requires some official experience, it requires a capacity for labour. These are the qualities which are generally necessary for an administrative office of this description; and it is our custom that they should be coupled with that of education and with the moral repute which society demands. My Lords, in these circumstances, the question which I had to decide was one of no little difficulty. Your Lordships may say that although it was not possible to appoint a man who had technical knowledge of stationery and printing, it is not to be believed that the superintendence of an important Department of the State, the expenditure of which amounts to £500,000 a-year, should be entrusted to a person ignorant of the particular knowledge without which it was impossible that successful administration could be secured. My Lords, I apprehend that this vote in that respect must have been arrived at under a considerable misapprehension of the circumstances. In the Stationery Office, as it at present exists, there is a complete and organized body of experts in every Department of that Office—men who have special acquaintance with stationery, with printing, and with bookbinding—they are thoroughly capable of deciding all points connected with these trades, so far as the public requirements demand. They are a permanent body, and they supply the individual who is responsible for the administration of the Department with all the technical knowledge which is requisite. Your Lordships will, perhaps, be interested to hear that there are in this Department two examiners and two assistant examiners of printing and of printing accounts; that there is one examiner and one assistant examiner of paper as material; that there is an exa- miner and two assistant examiners of binding—a very important part of the business of the Office—in short, there is not a single branch of the duties which require technical knowledge which is not already provided with competent experts, whose knowledge is at the service of the Controller. Well, my Lords, it was necessary for me to consider what course I should take. Far from having disregarded the Resolutions and opinions of the Committee of the House of Commons, the present Government have effected in this particular Department most important reforms, and have reduced its expenditure to a material extent. Since the publication of the Report of the Committee, and much in consequence of its suggestions, the expenditure of the Department has been reduced by £40,000 a-year, and at this moment there are changes in progress which will bring about a further reduction of £20,000 a-year. I think this is evidence that Her Majesty's Government have not in any way neglected the recommendations of the Committee of the House of Commons. Upon this point, my Lords, I may perhaps make an observation. It has been said this great saving of the public money, and the great and beneficial changes that have been effected, are a striking proof of the advantage of having as superintendent of the Office a person who has a technical knowledge of stationery and printing; for they have been ascribed to the influence and exertions of a distinguished Colleague of my own who is Secretary to the Treasury, and who, before he entered into public life—happily, I think, for the public—was himself the head of one of the greatest establishments in this country connected with printing and with stationery. I allude to Mr. W. H. Smith, the Secretary to the Treasury—a name known and honoured. Now, I assure you, my Lords—and I make this statement with his full authority, and at his special desire—that none of those alterations in the Stationery Office are at all attributable to his influence and exertions. As Secretary to the Treasury, he has signed all the documents which have appeared connected with that Department; but the truth is, he signed them formally with the full confidence that the work which had been done had been done properly. That work had been done by a Lord of the Treasury, Mr. Rowland Winn. It was solely by his individual exertions and unceasing care that those great improvements and that saving were effected; and I need not remind you, my Lords, that Mr. Rowland Winn has no technical knowledge of stationery and printing, but is a Lincolnshire country Gentleman. Well, then, my Lords, I arrived absolutely at this conclusion—that it was impossible, with any regard to the efficiency of the Public Service, to appoint as head of this establishment a gentleman who was a real stationer or printer. The question, therefore, arose, in what manner the vacant post could be most efficiently filled up. Some are of opinion that the post ought to have been filled by a literary man—because it had been filled by literary men before, and because that was thought to be a graceful tribute to men of letters. My Lords, I do not think that I shall ever be accused of any want of sympathy or respect for men of letters. While I have occupied my present post, and, indeed, in former times, I have omitted no legitimate opportunity of aiding and honouring men of letters. But I am not aware that I should be honouring literature in this country by placing a man of letters in a post which requires qualities he does not possess, and the duties of which, in consequence, would have to be performed by others. Now, glancing over the names of various men of distinction in letters, I did not find any one of suitable qualifications whom I could have expected to accept the post. But it might be said, although I might not have been able to fulfil literally the Resolution of the House of Commons, I might have found a person competent to carry on the established routine of the Office among the present members of the establishment. Well, my Lords, this is a delicate subject to touch upon; but when the public interest is concerned, I must treat it with frankness, and I trust that in treating it with frankness I shall hurt the feelings of no individual. My Lords, I have ever been of opinion that—not as a strict rule from which there may be no exception, but as a general rule to be observed—it is expedient that when the head of a Department retires, or is promoted, it is not desirable that, as a matter of course, his successor should be found among his subordinates. Generally speaking, I believe it would lead to obsolete routine and a supine system of administration which it is not desirable to encourage. I do not lay it down as a rule without exception; I can at once admit that if I found a Department conducted with great efficiency—a Department against the administration of which there had been no murmurs—and if I could trace that that efficiency was in a great degree attributable to the energies of some of the second in command—if I may use the phrase—-in the Department, I think that that efficiency and that ability would create a moral claim to promotion which I should be the first to acknowledge. But if, speaking generally, as I think it will be admitted, it is not wise that it should be considered a matter of course that a subordinate should succeed to the Chief on his promotion, certainly that rule would particularly apply when we are dealing with an Office, the administration of which was admittedly unsatisfactory. I say this particularly with reference to the Chief Clerk of the Stationery Department (Mr. Reid). I believe him to be an efficient and able officer; I believe that all that was good, or much that was good, in the late administration of the Office may be attributed to him. But, at the same time, the general administration has not been satisfactory, and it appeared to me of the utmost importance that fresh blood should be introduced into the Department. Under the circumstances of the case, my Lords, there was only one course to take. As it was really practically impossible to appoint to the head of the Stationery Department as Controller a retired or unfortunate tradesman; as it was clear to me that from the organized system of experts prevailing in the Stationery Department, all the necessary technical knowledge was to be obtained from men who had been trained as stationers, trained as printers, trained as bookbinders—the three great trades connected with that Office; as it did not seem to me expedient that a man of letters should be appointed merely because he was a man of letters, and as it seemed to me most desirable that, considering the state of the Department, some one should be put at its head that had the requisite qualities for establishing an efficient administration, and who was not connected with the old system, I had to see whether among the members of the Civil Service I could find such an individual. Well, my Lords, my first intention and my first step was to apply to some of the most eminent members of the Civil Service, and I endeavoured to induce them to retire from the offices which they filled and accept the one that was vacant. My Lords, I was not, on the whole, fortunate in that attempt; and I must say that, on calmly considering the objections that were made to it, I do not think those objections were unreasonable. The gentlemen to whom I applied all held offices equal—not to say superior—in dignity to the Controllorship of Stationery, and they all received salaries, equal, not to say superior, in some instances, to that which is accorded to that functionary. Therefore it was asking them to make a sacrifice without any adequate necessity for it. My Lords, what was to be done? I considered then that the best course I could take would be to see whether there was not in the younger members of the Civil Service some one equal to the occasion, and I let it be known that this post was vacant—that it was to be a reward of merit, and that anyone might have it who was fully competent to undertake its duties. Certainly, I did not advertize this in the newspapers, or proclaim it at Charing Cross; but I had the opportunity of making the matter known in official circles; and it was well known in official circles that the claims of any man who had shown that he had distinguished abilities, and that he was competent to cope with such a post, would Be favourably considered by me. Well, my Lords, what was the result of that? Six names were placed before me. One of them—and the only name I will mention, was that of the gentleman whose appointment is the subject of this Resolution of the House of Commons—Mr. Thomas Digby Pigott. I will not mention the others, because it might be invidious to do so; but I will name their positions, which it will be seen were not materially different from Mr. Pigott's. One was a clerk of the Treasury. The bias of my mind was certainly to have promoted that gentleman. It has fallen to my lot to introduce clerks of the Treasury to important positions in the Public Service, and they have invariably gained distinction by the opportunity that has been thus afforded them. Another gentleman was connected with the Office of Works; another was in the Board of Trade; a fourth was clerk in the War Office—the same Department in which Mr. Pigott was—and another was in the Geological Survey Office. These were the six gentlemen who were brought under my notice as being competent to fulfil high administrative duties. I believe that all of them are men who will rise in the Public Service, but I could not appoint all six. I had to make a selection. I made every inquiry, and I finally decided to offer the post to Mr. Digby Pigott. He had not asked for it—indeed, he would probably have looked upon it as an act of great presumption to ask for it. No friend of his ever interfered in the matter. His name was brought before me by a gentleman who has as large an experience of business in our Public Offices as' probably any living person, and who, from his observation alone, had fixed upon Mr. Pigott to recommend him upon his merits. And not only did no friend of Mr. Pigott's interfere in the matter, but Mr. Pigott himself was unaware that he had been proposed for the post, and was greatly astonished that his name had ever been brought before me. My Lords, I mention this, because it has been said, in an Assembly almost as classical as that which I am addressing, that this appointment was a "job," that the father of Mr. Pigott was the parson of my parish, that I had relations of long and intimate friendship with him, that he busied himself in county elections, and that in my earlier contests in the county with which I am connected, I was indebted to his exertions. My Lords, this is really a romance. Thirty years ago there was a vicar of my parish of the name of Pigott, and he certainly was father to Mr. Digby Pigott. He did not owe his preferment to me, nor was he ever under any obligation to me. Shortly after I succeeded to that property Mr. Pigott gave up his living, and retired to a distant county. I have never had any relations with him. With regard to our intimate friendship and his electioneering assistance, all I know of his interference in county elections is, that before he departed from the county of Buckingham he registered his vote against me. And, my Lords, it is the truth—it may surprise you, but it is the truth—that I have no personal acquaintance with his son, Mr. Pigott, who was appointed to this office the other day. I do not know him even by sight. And yet, my Lords, this narrative was the basis of the principal address upon which this Resolution of the other House was founded; and I am told by a gentleman who, necessarily, from his position, is the best and most competent judge of such a point, that if that statement had not been made there would not have been the slightest chance of the Resolution being carried. My Lords, there is in this question something much more than personal feelings to be considered. When such a Resolution was passed by the other House, and laid upon your Lordships' Table, I should have felt it my duty, under any circumstances, from my respect for Parliament, to have brought its consideration under your notice. But, my Lords, I am greatly mistaken if there are not considerations connected with this question much graver and deeper than personal feelings and personal interests. I will not dwell on the case of Mr. Pigott. Mr. Pigott, though of gentle birth, is the younger son of a younger son—the cadet of a cadet—and had nothing to depend on in this life except the salary which he had obtained by 17 years of honourable and not undistinguished labour in the Public Service of which he is a member—known there by eminent Ministers, now in this House, to whom he was Private Secretary, and known also for his distinguished services as Secretary to a Military Commission to which, I believe, some Members of your Lordships' House belonged. Having, of course, given up his appointment, nevertheless he did not hesitate, after the Resolution of the House of Commons, with the promptitude of a gentleman, to place the resignation of his new office in my hands. He is, of course, without resources; and why? Because for 17 years, having done his duty in a manner which never had been impeached, having obtained reputation even in his modest career, without soliciting promotion, ignorant that his name was brought before the Minister who could promote him, he was promoted for his sheer merits, and for his sheer merits alone. And now, unable to go back to the post which he filled—for that has naturally, of course, been immediately given to another—he finds himself in a position of honourable, but absolute destitution. I do not ask you to think of these things. If it is for the public interest that they should occur, they must occur. If it is for the public interest that Mr. Pigott should be placed in such a position, he must meet his fate. But, my Lords, there appears to me to be a much more general, a much deeper question, for us to consider at this moment. I have the opportunity of now addressing men, many of whom have been in the habit of transacting great affairs, and who know and have felt the terrible responsibility of Government. My Lords, how many of you there are, who, when Ministers of the Crown, have on occasions felt that there is a special reason for appealing, and a special object to be attained by appealing, to some member of the Civil Service, and asking him to relinquish his post and take another for the public interest and the convenience and advantage of the Government of the day? But can you appeal to a gentleman in that position now, if a Resolution, passed in a complete misapprehension of the facts, lays down the principle which I deplore to see expressed in the Resolution to which I have referred? Why, you might go to such a person, and he would naturally say—"Well, I have a post of £700 or £800 a-year, and a prospect of the salary increasing by the constancy and assiduity of my labours. You tempt me by an increased salary, you tempt me by higher duties, you touch the ambition natural to all men, and you appeal to that public spirit which, without exaggeration, is a distinguishing mark of the Civil Service of this country. But if I accept the post, what security have I that Parliament may not interfere with the Executive in the performance of the duty which has hitherto been regarded as the peculiar function of the Executive; and what guarantee have I that, in endeavouring to assist the public interest or the Administration of the day, I may not find myself absolutely destitute, with a family to provide for? "It is open at any time for somebody to get up in the House of Commons and say—"I understand Mr. So-and-So is appointed to be Controller (we will say) of the Stationery Office, with £1,200 a-year, who was only a clerk with a few hundred pounds before. This is an infamous job; I can prove to you that his father, or his grandfather, his brother, or his nephew, was once the election agent of a Member of the present Cabinet, and I call on you to denounce this flagitious arrangement." My Lords, I would hope that the House of Commons will consider this case in a different, a milder, and a juster spirit. It is a generous Assembly, and I am convinced that had it been aware of the facts, it never would have arrived at such a conclusion. But if Mr. Pigott is sacrificed, I am equally at a loss to know how I can meet the wishes of the House of Commons. I cannot place at the head of the Stationery Department a person who is technically a printer or a stationer—everybody who is consulted on the subject will give the same opinion—and I doubt not that your Lordships on both sides feel that such an arrangement is not only absurd, but is from the manner in which this Office is organized utterly unnecessary, for all special and technical information is provided. This appointment was, in my opinion, a good appointment; it was, in my opinion, an appointment which would have benefited the Public Service; and I am sure that never was an appointment made with purer motives. My Lords, under these circumstances I have felt it my duty to make this explanation in vindication of my conduct—I do not say of the Government, because, of course, from the nature of things, I am individually responsible. I have acted from no motive of which I am in the least ashamed. I have been influenced solely by a desire to advance the public interest; and, therefore, I think your Lordships will scarcely be surprised when I say that I cannot feel myself justified in accepting the resignation of Mr. Pigott.


was understood to say that the noble Earl not having given any public or private intimation of his intention to make the interesting statement which their Lordships had just heard, it was not to be expected or wished that the House should now enter upon the consideration of what had occurred in "another place." He (Earl Granville) desired, however, to state his opinion that the noble Earl had most naturally come forward, believing that the House of Commons had acted without a knowledge of the facts, to give an explanation of the circumstances which had led to the appointment. There could be no doubt that the right of bringing public opinion to bear on the exercise of Government patronage was one of the most important safeguards to the good government of the country. He believed, however, that their Lordships would think it better not to discuss this case on its merits, but to leave the House of Commons to consider the statement which the noble Earl had just made.


said, he had the honour to be Chairman of the Commission on Army Retirement to which the noble Earl at the head of the Government had alluded. Mr. Pigott was Secretary of that Commission. It sat something like 18 months: it had to go through a vast mass of details, to group facts together, to draw conclusions on particular cases, and to place side by side with each other the claims of various classes of officers. In the investigation of those matters the Commission had the assistance of Mr. Pigott, and his only object in rising on that occasion was to state that, in his opinion, a more assiduous, a more intelligent, or more capable man for the duties he had to discharge in connection with the Commission could not have been found than Mr. Pigott; and, so far as he could judge, that gentleman was fully capable of taking charge of a Public Department. He had great pleasure in testifying to his great ability, and to his great success in the work he undertook.


rose for the purpose of stating that when he was at the War Department Mr. Pigott filled the office of his private secretary, doing his work to his entire satisfaction, and showing himself an able and excellent public servant. He could express no opinion of the qualifications needed for the Stationery Office, having no knowledge of its working, or of the Report of the Select Committee; but he had felt it his duty to say what he knew in regard to Mr. Pigott.


did not rise to say anything in praise of Mr. Pigott, because he did not understand that anybody had cast any imputation on that gentleman in regard to the duties he had hitherto discharged. But he could also bear testimony to the faithful and efficient manner in which Mr. Pigott performed his duty at the War Office. He discharged his duties most faithfully and most ably—and when the noble Earl who had just sat down left office, he (Viscount Cardwell) recommended him to the noble Marquess who succeeded—and, if his memory served him, he had also had another opportunity of giving the same favourable opinion of Mr. Pigott's capacity and service.

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