HL Deb 27 February 1912 vol 11 cc247-62

*THE EARL OF SELBORNE rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies to explain the meaning of Colonel Seely's statement in the House of Commons of the 13th of July, and of Mr. Harcourt's statement of the 15th of November last year, that "a Governorship lies quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Colonial Service"; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I once had the honour of occupying the position which the noble Lord now occupies as the representative of the Colonial Office in this House. I held the office for five years and after that I had myself the honour of being a Colonial Governor, so I have had the opportunity of making a great many friends in the Colonial Service. I think I may claim to know what their thoughts are concerning that Service, and I have put on the Paper the Motion which stands in my name because I hope to elicit from the noble Lord the present Under-Secretary some explanation of the rather extraordinary statements which the representatives of the Colonial Office have made in the House of Commons on the subject of the relation of the Colonial Civil Service to the appointment of Governors. The only quotations I will trouble your Lordships with are from answers given to questions in the House of Commons. The first answer is by Colonel Seely in July last. He at that time occupied the post which the noble Lord now fills. In reply to a question, Colonel Seely said— It must be understood that a Governorship lies quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Colonial Service. I suggest to your Lordships that those are very extraordinary words. Mr. Lyttelton took the first opportunity open to him—it was not until November—to put a question to Mr. Harcourt on the same subject. This was Mr. Harcourt's reply— A Governorship lies outside the ordinary course of promotion both in the Colonial Office and in the Colonial Service. I see no reason for reconsidering or modifying the present practice, and I can assure the right hon. gentleman that the claims of the Service are fully considered whenever a Governorship becomes vacant, my only object being to get the best available man. Mr. Lyttelton then put this supplementary question— In the case of the Colonial Secretary, say, of Ceylon, would not his claim be considered paramount to that of another person outside the Service of equal ability? To this Mr. Harcourt replied— The only claim I consider paramount would be the question of merit. There are parts of Mr. Harcourt's answers which obviously require no explanation. But I do think that the words of Colonel Seely, which he endorsed, do require explanation.

It must be understood that a Governorship lies quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Colonial Service Now, my Lords, what does that mean? Does it mean that in the Colonial Service, as in all other Services, there is a neck to the bottle, and that only a very small proportion of those who enter the Colonial Service can hope to become Governors? I do not think it can mean anything of that kind; that would be a mere truism. Or does it mean that the Secretary of State reserves to himself the right to recommend to the King for appointment as Colonial Governors gentlemen who have never previously been in the Colonial Service? I do not think it can mean that. If it does mean that, I take the liberty of saying that the method of expressing that sentiment is infelicitous.

On the question of the appointment as Governors of gentlemen from outside the Colonial Office I wish to say a word. It has always been the practice, ever since I can remember at any rate, and I believe long before—the noble Marquess who leads the House will no doubt confirm what I say—for Secretaries of State not to feel themselves bound to recommend for appointment as Governors only officers already in the Colonial Service, and within limits, though I do say strictly within limits, I am quite sure that is good for the Public Service. Every now and then you get introduced into the Service a man of remarkable ability who not only does most valuable work for the State as Governor of the Colony to which he is sent, but whose permanent influence on the Colonial Service is very much to its advantage. I would give as an instance of such an appointment that of Sir Matthew Nathan, who was a Royal Engineer and Secretary of the Colonial Defence Committee, and who then became Governor of Sierra Leone, whence he went to Hong Kong and then to Natal and eventually back to the Civil Service, where he is now. Therefore I hope the noble Lord will quite clearly understand that I do not for one moment contend that it should be the practice of the Colonial Office never to make appointments to Governorships from outside the Colonial Service. But it is a very long step from that admission to the words of Colonel Seely— It must be understood that a Governorship lies quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Colonial Service.

Just consider what the Colonial Service consists of. In the first place you have the Eastern Colonies—Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements, and Ceylon. They are recruited in exactly the same way, and, indeed, by the same examination, as the Indian Civil Service and the Home Civil Service, and to suggest to a man who has entered the Service of the Eastern Colonies by that examination that a Governorship lies quite outside the ordinary course of the promotion to which he may look seems to me to be a very extraordinary and, indeed, serious statement. But putting aside those who have joined the Colonial Service by this method and taking those who have not passed the examination but have come into the Service either as the private secretaries of Governors or by nomination of the Secretary of State to some subordinate post—a sub-inspectorship of police, an assistant native commissioner-ship, or one of the other methods of entry into the Colonial Service. Will your Lordships consider for a moment how important is that body of men at the present moment? Practically speaking the Colonies, in the sense of this question, are the Crown Colonies, comprising the Eastern group, which I have already mentioned; the West Indian group, the circumstances of which are rather peculiar; and the great West African and East African groups, and a group of Protectorates embraced within the geographical area of the Union of South Africa. In all those Colonies there are a body of officers who entered as boys or at any rate as very young men, who have borne the burden and heat of Colonial Service often wider very trying conditions of climate, and who are looking forward to promotion one day. Think what the effect upon them must be of reading the words of the Secretary of State's mouthpiece, that a Governorship lies quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Colonial Service.

I venture to contend that there never was a moment when it was more important than now to get the best class of young men we can for the work in these Crown Colonies. What East Africa and West Africa suffer from, according to my experience, is that the inducements to enter that Service have not been sufficient, not that they have been too great but that they have not been sufficient, and every inducement that the Colonial Office can put forward to good men to take this as their career must redound to the advantage of the Empire and the good government of these Dependencies. If you want to realise what it must mean to these men to read such words, think of a parallel case. Take the case of men who have entered the Service of the Eastern Colonies through the same examinations as the home Civil Service. What would the home Civil Service think if they were told that the headship of a Department was quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Civil Service? Or if men under the Foreign Office were told that an Ambassadorship was quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Diplomatic Service? Or if a soldier was told that promotion to the rank of General lay quite outside of the ordinary course of promotion in the Army? Is it not obvious that a more depressing effect could not be produced than by the use of such words?

It is not really an answer to say that the difference between those Services and the Colonial Service exists in the fact that the Secretary of State reserves to himself the right occasionally to appoint as Governor a gentleman who had not previously been in the Colonial Service. I do not want for a moment to suggest that that reserved right should be abandoned; but I do say that it is an impossible step from the reservation of that right to what apparently is the meaning of the words used in the answer given by Colonel Seely in the other House. If those words are not explained, if they stand as they are—I say it with the deepest regret—it will be the ruination of the Colonial Service. How can you possibly expect good men to enter the Colonial Service if they are practically told that there is no chance of their ever achieving the position of Governor. It is one thing for them to be told that they will have to stand on their merits and that if there are very much better men outside the Service they may be brought in; but Mr. Harcourt would not even admit to Mr. Lyttelton that, if everything else was equal, the man in the Colonial Service was to have the preference. I am sure that was an omission on Mr. Harcourt's part; I cannot believe that he really intended it; and that is one of the reasons why I have brought this question forward. But Mr. Lyttelton did ask point-blank— In the case of a Colonial Secretary, say, Of Ceylon, would not his claim be considered paramount to that of another person outside the Service of equal ability? Mr. Harcourt, to Mr. Lyttelton's immense surprise, did not reply in the affirmative, but merely said— The only claim I consider paramount would be the question of merit.

I began my observations by saying that I have some little knowledge of the feelings of officers in the Colonial Service. I am not exaggerating when I tell the noble Lord that these answers have produced absolute dismay in the Colonial Service. From the East, from Africa, from the West, from men in retirement here in London, the same story has reached me, a story of absolute dismay—an idea that it is the policy of the Colonial Office to discourage in every way merit in the Colonial Service, and to tell the Colonial Service that any other kind of merit, although it has not borne the burden and the heat of the day in the tropical posts of the Crown, will be quite as likely, if not more likely, to receive the reward of a Governorship as the merit of a man who has given his life to the Service. I have already said that I do not suggest that a rule should be laid down that these appointments should never be given outside the Service, but I do say that the practice of giving them outside the Service should be less frequent in the future than it has been in the past. And for this reason. Because a large number of Governorships that were once within the reach of the Colonial Service have now passed outside the reach of that Service. When I was first connected with the Colonial Office it was quite a common thing for an Australian Governorship to be a prize in the career of a Colonial Civil servant. That is so no longer, owing to no fault of the Colonial Office but chiefly owing to the great expense of the office and the fact that the salaries of Colonial Governors in the Australian States have been reduced. Therefore no longer can the Governorship of Australian States be looked to as the reward of Colonial Service; and with the Union of South Africa have departed four possible Governorships which members of the Colonial Service might have looked to for promotion. Instead of four Governors there is now one Governor-General. Therefore the whole of the Australian group of Governorships and the whole of the South African group are now removed from the sphere of ambition of the ordinary Colonial Civil servant. Consequently it is more necessary, I suggest, not less necessary, that promotion to the Crown Colonies proper should as far as possible be reserved for those who have spent their life in the Colonial Service, and that it should be the exception, the marked exception, for a man to be brought into one of these great Crown Colony Governorships who has not made it his life's profession to work for the Empire in the Colonies. I have elongated the Question on the Paper in order that the noble Lord might appreciate the exact point to which I invite his attention and to which I want an answer. That is, What was the real meaning of the somewhat singular words used in the House of Commons, words which, I am sure far from the intention of the Secretary of State, have spread dismay through the length and breadth of the Colonial Civil Service?

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the appointment of Colonial Governors.—(The Earl of Selborne.)


Perhaps your Lordships will allow me, as I have had some experience in this matter, to say a few words and to express my entire concurrence with what the noble Earl has said. I served in the Colonial Office from 1867 to 1874 as legal adviser and Assistant Under-Secretary, and I was Colonial Secretary from 1887 to 1892. Therefore I am justified in speaking of my experience because this question came up before me many times during those years, and I can confidently say that the policy of my time and of my predecessors was entirely the reverse of that stated by Mr. Harcourt. I can only hope that his words have been misconstrued.

The experience of my time was that a Governorship lay "quite within" and not "quite without" the ordinary course of promotion in the Colonial Service, and that it was looked upon, unless there were any very special circumstances for departing from the ordinary course, as the reward for work which had been done by men in the Service as Colonial secretaries, treasurers, and in other capacities, in all parts of the world, in all climates, often at the risk of health, and indeed of life. I can endorse what the noble Earl has said as to this announcement being received with absolute dismay by the Colonial Service. I have heard from several in the Service who ask, "Is the whole of our chance of promotion to be altered in this way?" It must be remembered that we are not dealing now with responsible Governments, because those who enter the Colonial Service do not expect—they may hope for it, but they have no right to expect—promotion to the Governorship of responsible Colonies. We are dealing with Crown Colonies. I am perfectly certain that the rule up to the present time has been that those who had worked hard and shown themselves capable of administering in the minor offices and minor Governorships had a right to expect promotion to the higher Governorships.

There are always special cases when exceptions have been and must be made to the rule. Where in the case of a Colony there is some special difficulty arising, for example, from financial or racial causes, the Secretary of State for the Colonies naturally has to look round to find a man who is specially adapted for the work, and it may be that there is not one at the time in the Colonial Service. In such cases it is recognised that there are special circumstances, and though some in the Service may feel that they have been passed over and complain, they are not justified in complaining. I wish to enforce on the noble Lord who represents the Colonial Office that unless it is the wish, which I cannot believe, to destroy the spirit of the Service and to lessen the hopes, and therefore the zeal and the good work, of the members of the Service, the language of Mr. Harcourt must be explained and qualified. I feel that this is a most important question affecting a very great Service, and men who have done in that Service such good work all over the world. It is on that ground that I have ventured to trouble your Lordships with these few observations.


My Lords, when I came down to the House this afternoon I wondered a little what line of argument the noble Earl who has made this Motion would adopt. I knew that he had almost unique experience in regard to this matter. He is himself a brilliant example of the success of a choice for a Colonial post of a man outside the Colonial Service. He was appointed to the most difficult and responsible Colonial post of his time, and he fulfilled his duties in a way which won the admiration, not only of those who are his political friends at home, but also of those who are his political opponents. The noble Earl also was for five years—from 1895 to 1900—the holder of the post which I now have the honour to hold, and during that time he must have had considerable experience of appointments to Colonial Governorships. I felt perfectly certain, therefore, that he was quite unlikely to treat this question on any narrow grounds, and he has, as a matter of fact, brought forward very cogent arguments in regard to this question and has based them on broad grounds of public interest.

The noble Earl complains of a certain phrase used by my right hon. friend Colonel Seely in another place, and he complains also that the same phrase was repeated, or almost repeated, by the Secretary of State at a later date. Now what did Mr. Harcourt say? In reply to Mr. Lyttelton he said— A Governorship lies outside the ordinary course of promotion both in the Colonial Office and in the Colonial Service. I see no reason for reconsidering or modifying the present practice, and I can assure the right hon. gentleman that the claims of the Service are fully considered whenever a Governorship becomes vacant, my only object being to get the best available man. I think that the noble Earl has attached too much importance to his rendering of the earlier part, and has attached too little importance to the qualifications in the latter part of that reply, because Mr. Harcourt, in the latter part of his reply, does clearly signify that no change of practice has been made, is being made, or will be made. The noble Earl said that the phrase of which he complains could not simply refer to the fact that, as Governorships are few and the Colonial Service is a large Service, there are not many young men who go into the Colonial Service who can expect to become Governors. He said that the phrase could not mean that. He also said that he did not think that the phrase could mean that the Colonial Secretary reserved to himself the right to recommend outsiders to positions of especial difficulty for which they were specially suitable. Well, my Lords, I am very much surprised that such a cloud of suspicion should have arisen from this answer of the Colonial Secretary. The noble Earl has told us, and the noble Viscount who was Secretary of State for the Colonies a good many years ago has confirmed the statement, that this phrase has spread absolute dismay in the Service. If that is the case, I think the noble Earl has done a service in bringing the matter forward, because I hope to be able to blow away entirely all this cloud of suspicion.

I can state in the most categorical way that no change has been made or will be made in the direction of seeking for outsiders instead of those who are already members of the Colonial Service when Governorships are vacant. Indeed, I can do more than that. I can give your Lordships some particulars which I think will show that so far from the present Colonial Secretary or any Colonial Secretary connected with the present Government having appointed more Governors from outside than were appointed, let me say, at the time when the noble Earl opposite was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, there have, in fact, been fewer outside appointments of late than in the past. I have not gone far back in the researches that I have made in regard to this matter. I began only in 1895. But I may state generally, having looked at the papers in the office in regard to this matter, that there was a larger proportion of outsiders appointed before 1895 than since that year. I take the five years 1895 to 1900. The outside appointments made during those years were those of Sir West Ridgeway to Ceylon, Sir. West Ridgeway having before that time been Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Man; Sir Herbert Murray to Newfoundland, Sir Herbert Murray having been before that Chairman of the Board of Customs; Mr. Sterndale, a retired member of the Indian Civil Service, to St. Helena in 1897; and Sir Matthew Nathan, to whom the noble Earl referred, who was first sent as Acting Governor to Sierra Leone and was afterwards appointed Governor of the Gold Coast. Sir Matthew Nathan was Secretary of the Colonial Defence Committee at the time of his appointment. Those are the only four appointments in the period from 1895 to 1900. But, few as those appointments were, the appointments of Governors to our Crown Colonies made since 1900 are fewer still. And may i say in regard to this matter that I am leaving out of account, as I must leave out of account I think, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, amid the Military Governorships of Gibraltar, Malta, and Bermuda.


Hear, hear.


In the period of the Unionist Government limn 1900 to 1905 there was, so far as I can make out, only one appointment from outside the Colonial Service, and that was the appointment of Sir John Anderson to the Straits Settlements. Sir John Anderson is now the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office and was in the Colonial Office before.


He was in the Colonial Office at the time of his appointment.


Now I come to the period of the present Government. The only outside appointments made by the Liberal Government since they came into office in December, 1905, were, first, that of Sir Percy Girouard, who was Commissioner of Railways in South Africa and had special experience of railway construction, to the Governorship of Northern Nigeria. I do not think that his case is a real exception to the rule, but I give it for what it is worth. The only other appointment—and this is hardly an outside appointment—until I come to the tenure of office of the present Secretary of State is that of Sir Sydney Olivier, who was a principal clerk in the Colonial Office from 1904 to 1907 and had been Colonial Secretary in Jamaica from 1900 to 1904, and was sent out in 1907 as Governor of Jamaica. Those are the only two who were not actually in what is called the Colonial Service when they were appointed. The only appointment of the kind made by my right hon. friend the present Secretary of State for the Colonies is that of Major Chancellor to Mauritius in 1911. I abstain, of course, because we are not discussing this matter as one between Parties and Governments, from any question of tu quoque. I bring forward these figures to show that, so far from outside appointments having become more numerous as years have gone on, they have actually become less numerous, and I sincerely hope that they may become fewer still in the future. I hope I have met the case that has been made out; because if it be true, as the noble Earl and the noble Viscount have said, that so much suspicion has been aroused in regard to this matter, it is certainly very desirable that that suspicion should be dissipated.

Just before I came down to the House this afternoon I had put into my hand a copy of The Times of December 2 last, in which appears a letter written by Sir Frank Swettenham dealing with this question, and if I ant not keeping your Lordships too long I would like to read one paragraph from that letter and comment upon it. Sir Frank Swettenham wrote— It is not only that the men who enter the Colonial Service early, by the narrow gate of severe competitive examination, are to stand aside for military officers, who have been educated at Woolwich and elsewhere to perform entirely different duties, but this dictum—that Governorships stand apart—opens the door to every kind of jobbery; and when the Secretary of State suggests, as he did recently in the case of British Guiana, that the salary of a Governorship should be raised in order that he may be able to put in the post a really suitable man, he gives us furiously to think. I mention that case because I want to say, first of all, with regard to British Guiana that the request for raising the salary came from British Guiana itself, and, secondly, to point out that the new Governor is Sir Walter Egerton, who was himself an Eastern Cadet and entered the Service by the door of examination. Therefore this particular case, which is held up as one which gives us furiously to think, is one in which the ordinary course of promotion from the Colonial Service has been followed, and as to which it is quite clear that Sir Frank Swettenham's suspicions have no foundation whatever. I have only one word to say in conclusion. I do not propose to detain your Lordships by going into the general question of what should be done to improve, to strengthen, and to make more attractive the Colonial Service. That is a large question. All I need say now is that, as regards that part of the matter, I associate myself entirely with what fell from the noble Earl.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this subject, as I know something about it. I had the honour of serving for some time in the Colonial Office, it is true not in the important and responsible positions held by my noble friend or by the noble Lord opposite, but I had the honour of serving as private secretary to Mr. Chamberlain, and I spent in the Colonial Office a longer period measured in hours than any one in this House, and one of my principal duties was to deal with these questions of patronage. I think we all received with the greatest satisfaction the assurance which the noble Lord has given us in explicit words—namely, that no change in practice has been made, is being made, or will be made; and if he is saying that, as no doubt he is, on behalf of his chief, we must all be thoroughly satisfied.

But I venture to say it would have been more satisfactory if the noble Lord had given us a somewhat simpler and less ingenious answer to the question put to him by my noble friend. I think the most satisfactory and obvious course would have been for him to say that the answers given to the questions in another place had been badly expressed, and that the meaning which had been read into those answers by an enormous number of members of the Colonial Service was not justified. That would have ended the matter, and nothing further would have been required. But the noble Lord opposite sought to justify the answer given by the Secretary of State and said that the latter part of it explained away the first part. It does not do anything of the kind. The latter part of Mr. Harcourt's answer was that he saw no reason to modify the existing practice. The question at once arose, What is the existing practice? Is it the practice existing only during the present régime or the practice existing in previous régimes? That is a doubt which at once occurred.

When I had to deal with these matters as private secretary in the Colonial Office the answer given to the enormous number of people who sent in applications for Colonial Governorships was precisely the reverse of that which was given in the House of Commons. The invariable stock answer which I was directed to give in this correspondence was that Colonial Governorships were reserved in the ordinary course for members of the Colonial Service, and that it was only in very exceptional circumstances—those stated by the noble Viscount earlier this evening—that an outsider was ever appointed. That answer precluded any possibility of doubt on the part of members of the Colonial Service, and it also precluded false expectations on the part of outsiders who wished to obtain Governorships.


My Lords, I have really very little to add to the complete answer which my noble friend behind me was able to give to this Question, and I think we may all congratulate ourselves that the Question was put by the noble Earl assuming, as no doubt is the case, that he is right in supposing that the answers which had been given by my two right hon. friends in another place had been misunderstood. Whether it was reasonable that they should be misunderstood is a. question which it is very difficult to answer. It is not always easy to state a phrase in a manner which cannot possibly be misconceived, and, of course, taken in a strict sense the answer given by my right hon. friends was perfectly true. The noble Earl opposite mentioned the case of a military officer. If you were to say that the various commands in this country which are held by Lieutenants-General are not in the ordinary run of military promotions—


Those were not the words.


Well, suppose one were to say that those commands were outside the ordinary course of promotion in the service of His Majesty's Army, I do not think that anybody would misunderstand what was intended. It is, of course, quite true that my right hon. friend the Secretary of State does not propose to alter what has been the custom for a number of years, which I take to be that when a vacancy occurs in a Crown Colony the list of those who stand high for promotion is carefully considered in relation to the particular duties required of the Governor of the particular Colony, and, when that process has been gone through, if for one reason or another, whether for reasons of climate or whatever the reason may be, there is no gentleman there who appears to be entirely suited to the post, then the Secretary of State begins to look elsewhere.

The noble Earl drew attention to the fact—and from one point of view it is a serious fact—that the possibilities of promotion for those who are in the regular Service have been seriously reduced of late. It is no doubt the case that, speaking generally, those who have to recommend appointments to His Majesty look outside the Service for the Australian appointments. It is not invariably so. I myself had the honour of recommending to a first-class Governorship in a Crown Colony a Colonial Governor, Sir George Le Hunte, who was a member of the Colonial Service and at that time Governor of an Australian State. I also had the pleasure of recommending for appointment to Queensland Sir William Macgregor, Governor of Newfoundland, an honoured member of the Service who is also a popular Governor of an Australian State. But, speaking generally, it can no doubt be said that the habit of looking elsewhere for Australian Governors is a confirmed one; and it is also, from the point of view of the Service, lamentably true that the South African Governorships have disappeared from the scene altogether. I do not think that as a matter of fact the position is misunderstood in the Service. I do not believe, for instance, that the entrance into the Civil Service of such men as Sir Percy Girouard, Sir Frederick Lugard, and Sir William Manning is in any way resented by those who have risen step by step in the Colonial Service.

Since the noble Viscount opposite was at the Colonial Office a somewhat new state of things has arisen in the coming into being of a new class of Governorship—namely, those great African Governorships for which special qualities are undoubtedly demanded, qualities which have been splendidly displayed by Sir Frederick Lugard and by Sir Percy Girouard, qualities not often to be found, perhaps, in those who have risen step by step in small Colonies in quite different parts of the world; and therefore it is clear that there is always likely to be a certain incoming of outsiders, military officers and others, who possess special qualifications. But subject to those reservations I am quite certain, so far as my knowledge of the Colonial Office enables me to form an opinion, that future Colonial Secretaries will see that it is both fair and advantageous to allow it to be understood by members of the regular Colonial Service—so far as it is a regular Service, because it is only a regular Service in a special sense —that good work will be rewarded, and that extra good work has a chance of being rewarded by promotion to the highest offices of that particular branch which are in the gift of the Crown.


I do not press the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minute past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.