HL Deb 25 November 1942 vol 125 cc224-72

THE EARL OF PERTH rose to call attention to the statements of His Majesty's Government relating to the official headship of His Majesty's Civil Service and to the functions of the holder of the title; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I feel that I owe an apology to your Lordships' House for having twice been compelled to postpone the Motion which stands in my name. It was due to reasons beyond my control. I do not, however, make any apology for introducing it to-day because it raises questions of constitutional importance which I think are worthy of the consideration of your Lordships even in time of war. Further, the question has aroused a considerable amount of public interest if one can judge from letters and articles which have appeared in various newspapers and reviews.

I think it would simplify matters if I remind your Lordships of a question which I put to His Majesty's Government about the title and functions of Head of the Civil Service, and of the reply which I received from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack on August 4 last. The question was to ask His Majesty's Government when and by what instrument the title of 'Head of the Civil Service' was first bestowed on the Permanent Secretary to His Majesty's Treasury; whether Parliamentary sanction was or has subsequently been obtained to the bestowal of the title and what are the powers conferred on and the functions performed by the holder of the title. The answer given was as follows: The supreme Head of all the Services of the Crown is the Sovereign. The Ministerial Head of His Majesty's Civil Service is the Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury. The principal officer of that Service is the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury; that title was introduced in 1867 and the post has since carried with it the official headship of the Service. No formal instrument recording the fact appears then to have been issued, but the position was explicitly reaffirmed in 1919 by the Government of the day in connexion with the reorganization of the Treasury after the last war. Appointment as 'Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and official Head of H.M. Civil Service' is made by the Prime Minister with the approval of His Majesty. The sanction of Parliament to appointments and titles in the Crown Services is not required. The function of the holder of this past is to direct, subject to Ministerial authority, the work of the Treasury, including that part of the Treasury's work which is concerned with the general supervision of the Civil Service and the central oversight of the official machinery of Government; his duties in this regard include that of advising the Prime Minister and First Lord, after consultation with any other Minister concerned, on appointments to certain senior posts in the Service which require the Prime Minister's approval, namely: Permanent Heads of Departments, their Deputies, Principal Finance Officers and Principal Establishment Officers. The holder of this post is, of course, in the exercise of his functions, subject to the authority at the Government of the day and he has no powers independent of the Minister to whom he tenders advice and to whom he is responsible.

Your Lordships will notice that the first part of the answer deals with the historical aspect of the matter, and I propose, therefore, to devote a short time to this point. The reply says that the post of Permanent Secretary to the Treasury was created in 1867 and that since—since 1867, I assume has carried with it the official headship of the Civil Service. There is no document apparently in existence recording this fact and thorefore I assume the Government rely on tradition. I personally am a great believer in tradition and am content to be guided by it if it is well-established and proven, but I think you will find that in this particular case tradition is strongly opposed to the Government view. am convinced that neither Mr. Asquith, when he was Prime Minister, nor Sir Edward Grey,. when he was Foreign Secretary, had any knowledge of such a post as Head of the Civil Service. Some of your Lordships held high positions in Mr. Asquith's Administration and I would ask those noble Lords to search their memory to see whether their recollection does not correspond with mine.

My noble friend the Marquess of Crewe, who had intended to speak in the debate to-day, is unfortunately prevented from doing so owing to indisposition, but he confirms my statement that Mr. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey had no knowledge of any such post. The noble Marquess, who served in different capacities in eight Ministries, was totally ignorant of any such position, although he writes that he appreciated the high functions of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. Mr. Robert Harcourt, son of the very eminent Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote a letter to The Times in which he said that he had known Mowatt, Milner, Welby and Murray, all famous Permanent Secretaries to the Treasury, very well, and that none of them had ever claimed even to be primus inter pares, much less would they have laid any claim to the formal headship of the Civil Service. There is a mass of evidence all pointing in the same direction, and I do not wish to weary your Lordships with it. As far as I can tell, not a single letter supporting the Government thesis has appeared. I do not think this claim for continuity since 1867 can be established, and I shall be much interested to learn on what historical facts the noble and learned Viscount based the claim.

There was a debate on a very similar subject in your Lordships' House in 1937. The then Lord Chancellor who spoke on behalf of the Government relied on certain words spoken by Mr. Lowe in 1872, but I rather doubt whether the Lord Chancellor at that time quoted those words correctly. He cited Mr. Lowe as saying that the Secretary to the Treasury is not an Under-Secretary, he is the Head of the Civil Service. I looked up that debate in Hansard and according to Hansard what Mr. Lowe said was that the Secretary to the Treasury is not an Under-Secretary, he is at the head of the Civil Service. I feel sure your Lordships will appreciate the distinction, but I would like to give an illustration. I think I should command the assent of all your Lordships if I said that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack is at the head of the legal profession, but equally I feel sure that he would be the first to agree that other eminent legal personalities, both inside and outside your Lordships' House, are at the head of that learned profession. I do not wish to press the argument too far because Mr. Lowe at the time was not Prime Minister—he was Chancellor of the Exchequer—and his remarks were simply an interjection in the debate. I do not think they can be held to be authoritative. They were not confirmed by subsequent usage in practice. In 1937 the Lord Chancellor also referred to a passage in Todd's Parliamentary Government, published in 1889. I have looked through the edition published in 1892, and frankly I have not been able to find the reference. I have no doubt it exists, but it certainly does not, so far as I can trace, occupy any prominent position, and I can find no trace of it through the index. I wish that the noble and learned Viscount could deal with the historical aspect of this matter in another capacity. I have no doubt what his verdict would be, as I have no doubt on which side the weight of the evidence lies.

I must revert for one moment to the answer which I received because that reply declares that the position was explicitly reaffirmed by the Government of the day in 1919. I would ask your Lordships to note the word "reaffirmed." The Tomlin Report on the Civil Service states that in 1920 the Government of the day affirmed the principle of requiring the consent of the Prime Minister to certain important appointments—namely, Permanent Under-Secretary, Deputy Permanent Under-Secretary, Principal Establishment Officer and Principal Finance Officer. But there was no question here of reaffirmation, and it would appear that these functions were first bestowed on the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury in 1920. Some of us, who have followed the controversy from the beginning, believe that the post of Head of the Civil Service was created only in 1919, as, indeed, the additional functions were only bestowed in 1920, and we believe this in spite of the statement of the Government that the Government of the day in 1919 explicitly reaffirmed the position.

What happened in 1919? So far as I can trace a Committee was set up presided over by the Prime Minister to consider two Reports on the Civil Service. That Committee met, and finished their deliberations, and afterwards a Minute was framed by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Baldwin as he then was, clarifying the position. I assume that it is that Minute that the Government have in mind when they speak of explicit reaffirmation. Does not it seem to your Lordships rather odd that a scheme composed by a Committee of such importance—I understand it was submitted to the Cabinet—was recorded solely by a Minute of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and simply placed in the Treasury archives? Was no further action taken on it? Was there no instruction from the Prime Minister to his colleagues, and no instruction from the reaffirmed Head of the Civil Service to his opposite numbers in other Government Departments? Was no notice given to the Civil Service at all of a matter which so vitally concerned them? It seems to me very odd, and I think that on an issue of this kind your Lordships are entitled to the fullest information. I consider that we ought to know exactly what the contents of this important Minute were, and I would ask the noble and learned Viscount if the Government will not produce it.

Whatever the explanation of this procedure may be, if my suspicions and those of Others are well founded, and the post of Head of the Civil Service was created only in 1919—I have tried to prove that no sufficient evidence exists that it was constituted before that date—then I wonder why the Government will not frankly admit the fact. I can hardly believe that they are so doubtful as to the nature of their case that they wish to claim the sanctity of eighty years tradition in its support. I rather hope that, in view of the evidence I have produced, the Government will acknowledge that the post was created only in 1919. I, on my side, will be perfectly willing to agree that since 1919 the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury has exercised certain leadership in Civil Service matters, as was acknowledged by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in the debate in your Lordships' House in 1937.

So much for the historical side of the case. I now turn to a far more important aspect—namely, the constitutional question. I agree that there should be, as the reply says, some central authority to exercise general supervision of the Civil Service and central oversight of the official machinery of government. Questions of establishment, of salaries and of grading require continuous examination and supervision. But these highly important functions were admirably performed by the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury before 1919. Indeed, in the answer given it is stated that they formed part of the ordinary work of the Treasury. I am not concerned to argue here to-day whether these functions should remain with the Treasury or whether a separate Department should be created to deal with them. Various important men of business of great experience have advocated this latter cotarse, and a very able article has appeared in The Times in the same sense. On the other hand, the Committee on National Expenditure, in their lately published Report, hold a strongly opposed view. That Report, of course, is going to be of the greatest value in dealing with various Civil Service problems. Their view is that these functions should remain with the Treasury, but they point out some very serious defects of the present arrangements, and suggest drastic alterations to deal with them. But if I were to attack this problem, concerning which there is a great deal to be said for and against, I think that I should be going outside the boundaries of my Motion, which is concerned solely with the headship of the Civil Service, and not with Civil Service reforms as a whole. I will only say, therefore, that the considerations which I am now urging apply equally whether these duties remain with the Treasury or whether a separate Government Department is set up.

The admission that there should be some central authority to exercise supervision over the machinery of government in no way implies that the Head of the Treasury, the Permanent Secretary, should consequently he Head of the Civil Service; though if the duties are limited to those to which I have alluded I personally should see no objection to his bearing that title. According to the answer which I received, however, the duties go very far beyond these. Let me quote from the reply again: … his duties"— that is, the duties of he Head of the Civil Service — in this regard include of advising the Prime Minister and First Lord, after consultation with any other Minister concerned, on appointments to certain senior posts in the Service which require the Prime Minister's approval, namely: Permanent Heads of Departments, their Deputies, Principal Finance Officers and Principal Establishment Officers. It may be that this procedure is proper as regards the Principal Finance Officers and Principal Establishment Officers, since the duties of these officers are very closely linked up with the work of the Treasury itself; but I submit that as regards the Permanent Under-Secretaries and their Deputies, this new system constitutes a very undesirable and dangerous innovation.

How does this duty, as defined, apply particularly as regards the authority of responsible Ministers of the Crown? If a Permanent Secretaryship or Deputy Permanent Secretaryship becomes vacant, it is no longer the responsible Minister who will propose to the Prime Minister the names of those whom he regards as best fitted to fill the vacancy. The responsible Minister has, according to the answer, no direct access to the Prime Minister in a matter of such vital concern to his Department. It is true that he is to be consulted by the Head of the Civil Service, but there is no assurance that his advice will be taken, and the appointment might be made contrary to his desires. He has then to accept it or to resign his high office. This seems to me to be an intolerable position for a Minister of the Crown, and I have grave doubts whether it is in accordance with our constitutional principles. I am convinced that any such practice would never have been admitted by such Foreign Secretaries as Lord Grey and Mr. Balfour, under both of whom I had the honour to serve; and I wonder whether any of your Lordships holding high office under the Crown would have approved of this new theory had a case arisen in the Department for which at the time you were responsible. I do not know whether the Permanent Secretaryship of the Lord Chancellor's Office is one of those which is affected, but, if it were, I am quite clear that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack would be the first: vigorously to contest the position if the nomination in the case of a vacancy did not rest with him. Of course he would object, and even more certainly he would gain his point; but I would point out that, according to the answer, he would not be the person who would advise the Prime Minister. Even if the Lord Chancellor's office is not affected, the great overseas Government Departments—the India Office, the Dominions Office, the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office—certainly are. To my mind—and I hope that your Lordships will agree—it is unthinkable that the principal adviser of the Prime Minister on matters of this kind should not be the responsible Minister.

There is a further consideration—namely, the allegiance of these high officers of the Crown. When I first entered the Civil Service, the principle which was instilled into my mind and into the minds of others also in the Service was that we owed allegiance to the responsible Minister of the Crown, and that it was our duty to serve him to the utmost of our capacity. It did not matter what was the political persuasion of the Government; it was no concern of ours whether it was a Conservative, a Liberal or a Labour Government; what we had to do was to work out, to the best of our ability, the policy laid down by the Minister. I believe that these ought still to be the guiding principles of the Civil Service. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, who has served with such conspicuous success different Governments of varying political complexions, will, I am sure, hear me out as to the importance of these principles. So long as they are maintained, they constitute a reply to those who say that the new system will prevent political appointments by Ministers; but in any case I do not think that this argument can be valid, because ultimately the appointment will be made by the Prime Minister, and there is no greater danger of political appointments being made under the new or under the old system.

Surely the loyalty of these high officers must be, under this new system, divided. The Head of the Civil Service is responsible for their nomination. Is he or is the responsible Minister the chief to whom these highly-placed civil servants owe allegiance? The position, to say the least of it, is anomalous, and I hold strongly that we should revert to the former clear practice. There is also a danger, which is by no means negligible, of interference by the Head of the Civil Service in the policies of Departments other than the Treasury. I think it is of great importance that we should receive a definite assurance from the Government that no such interference will take place; and, as a question of organization may result from decisions of policy, the assurance ought also to cover this contingency. With regard to the Deputy to the Permanent Under-Secretary, I would ask whether the Permanent Under-Secretary is to be consulted before the appointment of his Deputy. There is nothing to imply that there should be any such consultation.

I may well be told that the system has worked well in the past, is working well, and will work well in the future, given goodwill, and that the dangers to which I have alluded are illusory. I have grave doubts whether, in view of certain happenings, this would be a correct statement. I do not wish to dwell on these but rather to emphasize that a system which can allow such possibilities is unsound in itself and must be altered. Under it the Head of the Civil Service has a controlling voice in questions of patronage, questions of high promotion, and even in questions of honours. Might not an ambitious and authoritative Head of the Civil Service attain such a position of dominance as to undermine the authority of the Minister with his permanent staff, and thus impinge on the control of Parliament itself, to whom that Minister is responsible? A civil servant is exempt from Parliamentary criticism, and I feel that to give any particular member of the Civil Service excessive authority is a danger which we ought to avoid.

I trust therefore that His Majesty's Government will agree to reconsider the whole question of the headship of the Civil Service when the time comes to envisage a new appointment. Meanwhile, in order to safeguard the present, and above all the future, I would ask for two definite assurances: first, that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, whether styled Head of the Civil Service or not, should not interfere in questions of policy of other Departments than the Treasury, or in matters of organization arising out of such policy; and the second, that in case of a vacancy in the office of a Permanent Under-Secretary or his deputy, proposals with regard to any successor shall be made by the responsible Minister, and not by the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. A very able civil servant has recently been appointed Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and Head of the Civil Service. I want to make it abundantly clear that in raising this issue no question of personalities has entered my mind. I have tried to deal with it solely as a constitutional matter, and I hope I have succeeded. I beg to move.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the official headship of His Majesty's Civil Service and to the functions of the holder of the title. —(The Earl of Perth.)


My Lords, I think it would be the best way of serving the House and the best contribution I can make to the orderly conduct of the debate, if I were to intervene now in order to deal with the matter which has been introduced in such moderate terms, as a matter of general constitutional importance, by my noble friend the Earl of Perth. If the debate develops and if new matters arise, as they tend to do in your Lordships' House in the course of a discussion, I understand that my noble friend and colleague, Lord Woolton, will also speak for the Government at the end of the discussion. I should like, quite definitely—and I need not say in the most friendly spirit—to deal seriatim with the points which my noble friend has made. They deserve close attention.

I listened to them with the most complete respect not only for his public spirit but also for his public services; but I think I can show the House—I am confident I can show the House—that in some respects at least he is really under sonic misapprehension. I think it is the more desirable that I should speak at once because I recognize from some passages in his speech that if he is labouring under a misapprehension it may be partly due to the written answer which I gave on August 4. I need not say that not only do I not resent further and better interrogatories, but it seems to me important that we should clear this matter up as a matter of fad. A written answer is necessarily in the nature of a summary, and it is not possible to state this matter at all completely with such brevity as that. I hope, therefore, your Lordships will forgive me if I occupy rather longer in dealing with it now to the best of my ability. I really have no feeling in the matter at all except a desire to be accurate and, with all possible respect to my noble friend, to correct his inaccuracies where I think they arise. He has asked me to proceed in a judicial spirit, and this is one of the prerogatives of a Judge.

I entirely agree with my noble friend that the historical. side of this matter is not the most important side. It would not be anyhow, but the historical side is of even less. importance when I can begin with a happy agreement with my noble friend, since he admits that the position of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury as the Head of the Civil Service has been expressly and formally recognized for more than twenty years past. I will refer in a few sentences to the remoter history afterwards, but I shall be ready to admit to my noble friend that the matter was very much more clearly expressed in 1919 and 1920 than it was at any earlier date. My noble friend appeals to me to be entirely frank, and I certainly will he. Well, put history aside for the moment and consider matters as they stand to-day, and as they have stood admittedly at any rate since 1919 or 1920. The question that is raised is as to the method of appointment of Permanent Heads of Departments, of their Deputies, and of principal Finance Officers and Principal Establishment Officers. I gather from my noble friend that he does not make much point about the last two, and I think it is convenient to take as the main example—because it is much the most important example—the machinery of appointment of a Permanent Head of a major Department. May I state—I hope with precision—what in fact happens when that somewhat rare situation arises? The permanent heads of great Departments do not change nearly as frequently as their political heads; it may even be that in some great Departments the same Permanent Secretary has seen quite a number of "embarrassed phantoms" come and go. But what happens when, owing to the retirement or the death or the transfer of the previous holder it is necessary to choose a new Permanent Secretary for a Major Department—the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Health, or whatever it may be?

The first thing to realize is this—and there was no mention of it in my noble friend's speech. The appointment is made by the Minister at the head of the Department. It is he, and nobody but he, who appoints the new Permanent Secretary. In the case of some recently-created Departments that is all provided for by Statute, but in the older Departments the principle is exactly the same. In every case the appointment is made by the Minister. For greater assurance I asked to be provided with a couple of Press cuttings taken at random to show what happens. I read here: The Minister of Production, Captain the Right Honourable Oliver Lyttelton, has appointed Sir Henry Self to be Permanent Secretary and Sir William Palmer to be Second Secretary to the Ministry of Production. I have another one here which states that following the grant of leave of absence to a Permanent Secretary "at the request of Sir Andrew Duncan and with the approval of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed to the loan" of Mr. So-and-so to take his place while he is away. Without a single exception, whenever there is a vacancy to be filled in the permanent headship of a Department, it is the Minister who at that time is political head of the Department who makes the appointment. I think we might begin with that. My noble friend brought this matter home very much to me by asking what would happen if I were so unfortunate as to lose the services of the present Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor. Let me relieve myself and, I hope, my noble friend of any anxiety on that point—I should make the new appointment. So it is in every Department of State. When there is a formal document, it is signed by the Minister, and the appointment in the normal case is announced as I have shown.

Now we come to the next point. Is it really suggested that the Minister who is at the head of the Department will appoint his Civil Service head at his own will and pleasure without consulting anyone else? Of course it is not suggested. It was so in the old days when each Department was a self-contained unit and there was nothing except internal promotion, mixed with a little nepotism, in each of them. Of course that does not happen now. An appointment is made after considering the whole range of the Civil Service. The Minister may have only just come to the Department. It may be his first Ministerial post. His acquaintance with senior members of the Civil Service may be limited to senior people in his own office. I do not think it would be challenged—it is not capable of challenge—that the Ministerial Head of His Majesty's Civil Service is the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Treasury. He has got the constitutional responsibility, and that is why it is formally provided—and has been for over twenty years—that the consent of the Prime Minister to these particular appointments must be obtained.

I shall detain your Lordships for a moment on what is perhaps only of constitutional interest, but it is interesting. Since the passing of the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937, there is statutory recog- nition of the fact that the Prime Minister is also First Lord of the Treasury. It always used to be the case that the salary of the Prime Minister, if he were First Lord of the Treasury, was paid to him as First Lord of the Treasury. He did not get a salary as Prime Minister until quite recently. But by the Statute of 1937 it is plainly indicated that the Prime Minister will also be First Lord of the Treasury, and will then draw the salary there provided. As your Lordships know, and as everybody interested in our Parliamentary and constitutional history will remember, the exceptions in the past to this combination of the offices of Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury have been few—at least for the last 100 years and more. The second Administration of the late Lord Salisbury was one in which he had Mr. W. H. Smith as First Lord of the Treasury, and in the third and last Administration of Lord Salisbury he had Mr. Arthur Balfour as First Lord of the Treasury. I do not, offhand, know of any other instance in our Parliamentary history. It is not the case that something of the sort arose when Lord Rosebery was Prime Minister, because Lord Rosebery was also First Lord of the Treasury.

The truth is, of course, that the Treasury must be regarded as in many respects the Central Department of State. It is in commission. There is a First Lord who is Prime Minister, there is another Commissioner who is Chancellor of the Exchequer, and there are the Junior Lords of the Treasury. The whole of that block of buildings in Downing Street, stretching from the Whips' Office, right round the corner, is all the Treasury. We talk about the Treasury Bench, because primarily the Treasury is the Central Department. If we take a walk up Downing Street (and if the police at the entrance do not stop us), when we get opposite the door of No. 10 Downing Street we can see a brass plate there. What is on the brass plate? Not "Prime Minister," but "First Lord of the Treasury." Nobody would think of disputing, I imagine, that it is proper that, while the Minister at the head of the Department appoints and announces the appointment, the Prime Minister's approval has to be obtained to it first. That is the second point, and I do not think it is capable of intelligent or intelligible challenge.

Nothing in my previous answer, I would assure my noble friend, was intended to suggest that the Minister cannot discuss the matter with the Prime Minister. I was a Hale surprised to hear from his speech that he seemed to think, in this connexion, that the Minister would not have access to the Prime Minister. A Minister of the Crown always has access to the Prime Minister whom he is serving. If he is a wise Minister he does not go there too often but he either sees him or writes to him on an endless number of matters. I cannot conceive that if a Minister of the Crown—one of those great Ministers to whom my noble friend referred, and under whom he served—were faced with a vacancy in the permanent headship of his Department, and if he had a proposal to make, that one of the first things he would not do would be to consult the Prime Minister. That, in fact, is what happens. Therefore we may now proceed to the next stage, because I do not believe what I have said can be contradicted.

The next step is this. If, then, the Prime Minister has to be consulted, and if his approval has to be given, and in many cases expressed, to the appointment which his colleague makes, is the Prime Minister to be debarred from any advice except the advice of his political colleague? Nobody in his senses suggests that his Ministerial colleague does not advise him. I can assure my noble friend that if the misfortune were to happen to me, to which he referred so feelingly, I should present respectfully but firmly to the Prime Minister my view as to who should have the new appointment, and that is the course every Minister adopts in all cases where it is necessary to do so. We really are in danger on this subject of treating it as something which has happened quite constantly. Changes in the permanent headship of a Department do not occur very often, but when they do occur they are very serious letters, and are certainly matters on which the Minister who is conducting the Department has the freest opportunity of presenting to the Prime Minister his view. Surely the Prime Minister is entitled to be advised in order that he, too, may form a judgment as to who is the best civil servant for the post. If he is going to be advised, who is going to advise him? Of course he is entitled to take advice from any- body, but the natural person to advise him is the Secretary to the Treasury.

The Secretary to the Treasury, whether or not we call him in form official Head of the Civil Service, is in fact in the nature of things the person who is able to give advice as to the whole range of the Civil Service. It is very important to notice that under our present practice it is not true, as is sometimes suspected, that the Treasury claims a monopoly or priority of any posts that are going. I have had some figures taken out for me and I will give a statement to the House of the facts. Out of 41 permanent civil servants with the status of head of a first-class Department, 16 have spent all their career in their present Departments, but 25 have had experience of other Departments. Out of 62 permanent civil servants of the second rank 30 have spent all their career in their present Departments, and 22 have had experience in other Departments. There is nothing invidious, I think, in taking a few illustrations which exist at the present moment. The permanent head of the Air Ministry came from the Ministry of Agriculture, the present head of the Customs came from the Admiralty, the present head of the Ministry of Agriculture came from the Treasury, the present head of the Ministry of Fuel and Power came from the Ministry of Labour, a deputy head of the Board of Trade came from the Dominions Office, a deputy head of the Air Ministry came from the Scottish Office, the deputy head of the Ministry of Home Security from the Ministry of Health. That shows the extent of interchange. How on earth then is the Prime Minister to give an intelligent judgment on the choice of the man to be appointed, out of the whole Civil Service, if all that he may listen to is the view of his colleague the Ministerial head of one Department?

The present practice—I do not know how far it goes back—is that the Prime Minister, to whom the Secretary to the Treasury is a permanent servant—for he is not the permanent servant merely of the Chancellor of the Exchequer but is also the servant of the First Lord—consults him. That is a perfectly natural arrangement, a perfectly proper one, and a perfectly businesslike one, so that the necessary information should be checked and the possibility of other names may be brought forward. I think the noble Lord who moved this Motion quoted my phrase: "after consultation with any other Minister concerned." In that phrase one thing that was in my mind was that other Ministers may sometimes be concerned. I believe a case has arisen since the war broke out in which a Minister at the head of a Department wanted to get as his chief civil servant somebody who was already the head of another Department. How is such a case to be settled without some such assistance as the Prime Minister gets? It cannot he decided without such a system as I have indicated. I do assure your Lordships that, having looked into this matter with care and without the slightest bias, I am quite satisfied, after a fairly long experience of the actual machine, that the machine works as I have described, and does not work too badly.

I will give one other figure to show to what an extent the interchange of staff between the various Departments affects the staffing of a particular office. In the Treasury itself out of thirty-one of the most important officials, twenty-two started their careers elsewhere. The idea that the Treasury regards itself as entitled to have all the plums is quite incorrect. It is a central organization which has amongst its duties the organization of Civil Service staffing,. all subject of course to the control of Ministers. The Prime Minister has to get the general information upon which he can decide. I think it is plain that the Prime Minister is entitled to get official advice to help him to decide whether he approves of a Minister's suggestion or not, and of course the principal official adviser of the First Lord of the Treasury is the person who would naturally give him advice.

I think, if I may say so to my noble friend, that there is a tendency to fall into error here, because it is easily assumed that in matters of public administration in this country we follow a precise formal protocol. There is nothing très protocolaire in our methods here. All the better. I should imagine that in some cases the first step that is taken is that the Minister who has to appoint the head of a Department communicates with the Secretary of the Treasury. He naturally would like to know what the range of choice is that has to be considered. The Secretary to the Treasury goes and sees him, as probably some of us have known him to do in cases with which we have been concerned. It is a wise thing if you are going to, put a proposal up to the Prime Minister, to take steps, if you can, to see that those who may be called in to advise the Prime Minister know what it is all about beforehand. We have all done that in connexion with many matters, and quite rightly so.

But as a matter of fact I do not think these difficulties arise. Our constitutional machine is not nearly as rigid as some who have never had to work it ministerially may suppose. In my experience as a Minister, which is now a rather long one, I have never known of the system not working smoothly. I cannot recollect a case in our history where a Minister wanted to appoint one individual so much that he preferred to resign rather than agree to the best name in consultation with the Prime Minister. If it so happens that there is any difference between the Prime Minister and his colleague, and if it is the constitutional duty of the Prime Minister to give his consent, and the Prime Minister finds it necessary to say "I am afraid I cannot agree with you about that, "well somebody has got to decide. But I think as a matter of policy any sensible Minister would say to the Prime Minister: "You, the Prime Minister, have examined this matter, you have told me what your feeling about it is; I have put before you all my own opinions about it, but of course I will loyally accept your decision." That is how it would work. It does not work, as is sometimes supposed, with one man insisting on his view à outrance and resigning in a case in which his opinions are not accepted.

I hope I have not spoken otherwise than respectfully to my noble friend, because I feel respect. I am only concerned to state the facts as they are, but I do think that my noble friend unconsciously has been led to give an account of this matter which is entirely different from the account of fact which I have tried to set before your Lordships' House. He said, I think, that the responsible Minister has no right of direct access to the Prime Minister in a matter which is of vital concern to his Department. My noble friend is entirely mistaken. Of course he has such a right.


May I be allowed to interrupt? That is not quite what I said. I did say "according to the answer" given to me.


I was not asked to give an answer on the working of the British Constitution. I was asked only to give an answer as to the part played by the head of the Treasury and I gave that answer. If my abbreviated answer led to the surprising deduction that a responsible Minister has no right of direct access to the Prime Minister on a matter of vital concern to his Department, I can only say I never said so. I never said anything in the least resembling that: and it is not true. The idea that the Minister at the head of a Department is required to wait "on the mat"—I think that used to be the phrase—while the Prime Minister and the Secretary of the Treasury are deciding behind his back and without his knowledge who is to be Permanent Secretary of his own Department, is a piece of fantastic imagination. Nothing of the sort could possibly happen. My abbreviated answer may have helped to mislead the noble Earl. My noble friend went on to say that the Minister is consulted by the Head of the Civil Service, but there is no assurance that his advice will be taken and an appointment might be made that is not in accordance with his desire. If anything I said has caused my noble friend to pass sleepless nights on this point, do let me administer a sleeping draught. What I said was that among the duties of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury was that of advising the Prime Minister and First Lord, after consultation with any other Minister concerned, on appointments to certain senior posts in the Service which require the Prime Minister's approval. I never thought that anybody could understand that therefore the Minister concerned could have nothing more to do with it. I assumed ii to be an elementary thing that a Ministerial colleague of the Prime Minister, on, a matter of great public importance, has of course the opportunity of seeing him if he wishes to do so.

What in fact happens, as far as my own experience goes, is that there is not likely to be any dispute about such a matter. The Minister wants to know who are the people he ought to consider before making an appointment and the head of the Treasury is able to tell him. I imagine—other members of your Lordships' House may have actual experience of what is done—that the thing is usually a matter of agreement, and not of disagreement or dispute, long before you come to the last stage. If, therefore, my statement misled my noble friend I am sorry, but really nobody who has been a Minister and has had experience of a change at the head of his Department would, I think, misunderstand the position. Of course, the Minister sees that the Prime Minister knows his view as to the best man to appoint. But his range of knowledge on the subject cannot extend to the whole Civil Service, and the practical and reasonable course is, at some stage—it may be an early stage—to consult the Head of the Civil Service. The whole conception which my, noble friend has formed—I hope he will excuse me for saying so—of something which is settled between the First Lord and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury without the Minister being properly consulted by the Prime Minister and taking a proper part in the decision, is one for which there is no foundation. You may say of this question, like many another question, solvitur ambulando. With reasonable co-operation and good will such as I have always found to exist in the administration of the Central Government, I do not believe that difficulties arise.

Then came my noble friend's observation that a nomination might be made contrary to the Minister's desire and that he had then to accept it or resign his high office. Well, after all, somebody has got to decide, and if the Prime Minister has to give his assent to such an appointment it does not strike me as very strange that the Prime Minister should have the final say. It is quite true that if a Minister felt that he could not tolerate a particular appointment, the usual consequences would follow, but I think it is wholly wrong to suppose that the Minister does not get his proper say. One thing winch surprises me is my noble friend's suggestion that according to my reply there is no need to consult the Permanent Head of the Department himself with regard to the appointment of a Deputy. I need hardly emphasize how fantastic is that theory.


I think the noble and learned Viscount is misquoting me in that particular passage.


I am sorry if that is so. My noble friend was good enough to send me notes of the speech he intended to make and I was quoting from them. It may be that when face to face with your Lordships, he used some modified phrase. Anyhow, I think that any one who has been a Cabinet Minister and has had a change in the second highest post of his Department, will know that in fact the first person with whom he discusses the whole thing is the Permanent Head of the Department. It is the very first thing he would do.

I should like for a moment to turn to the historical side. My noble friend offered me a compromise and said, "If you will say this whole thing began in 1919 or 1920 we will call it quits." It is not an unusual thing in litigation, when one party is wrong and the other right, for the party who is wrong to offer at a certain stage to split the difference. I wish at once to say, however, that I most entirely agree with him that 1919 or 1920 is the date when these things were put on a perfectly firm and exact basis. What happened was this. After the last war the future constitution of the Treasury was discussed amongst Cabinet Ministers. They arrived at certain views and the matter was brought before the Finance Committee of the Cabinet. At this distance of time I do think it can be objectionable to speak of this. In 1919 there was a Committee of the Cabinet, consisting of Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Bonar Law, Mr. Austen Chamberlain, Lord Milner and Sir Auckland Geddes, who is now a member of your Lordships' House. The main points which were then decided were these: That the Treasury should be reorganized in three main sections dealing respectively with finance, with supply and with establishments, each under an official of the status and with the pay of the head of a First Class Department of State; that the activities of all three Departments of the Treasury were to be co-ordinated and controlled by a Permanent Secretary to the Treasury with a salary superior to that of the head of a first-class Department of State. This last-mentioned individual was to be recognized as Head of the Civil Service.

It is by no means true that the matter stopped there. My noble friend the Earl of Perth said it seemed to him so odd that so serious a matter should remain in so amorphous a state, that there should be no communication with other Departments, that it should not be properly recorded and so on. It would be odd, but it does not happen to be correct. This was recorded in a Treasury Minute dated September 4, 1919, which was approved by Mr. Bonar Law and Mr. Lloyd George and signed by Mr. Austen Chamberlain as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have the Minute here, I shall be glad to let my noble friend see it if he wishes. But more than that, the change was officially announced to all Departments of the Civil Service according to the usual practice. Here is a Treasury circular, which perhaps my noble friend would like to see. It is dated September 15, 1919. It reports the main decisions of the Treasury Minute and it explains the new organization of the Treasury into the three departments. It says that the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury will act as Permanent Head of the Civil Service and advise the First Lord in regard to Civil Service appointments and so on. It has been the official law of our internal administration ever since that date and every Department is aware of it.

Further, there was a circular issued in March 12, 1920, again after consideration by a Cabinet Committee. That circular stated among other things that the consent of the Prime Minister was required to the appointment of Permanent Heads of Departments and their Deputies, of Principal Establishment Officers and Principal Finance Officers. That again went round to every department and is part of their official instructions. The noble Earl may like to see that circular too. He will be the first to admit, fair-minded man that he is, that this disposes of the point that this was merely decided by a few people and recorded in a private Minute. Nothing could possibly have been more official or in more regular form.

I must apologize for delaying the House, but it is necessary to say a word or two about the earlier history, riot because I want to bring up points of antiquity but because I dos not think that my noble friend has quite appreciated how much earlier history there is. I will content myself with making two points. My noble friend spoke of a reference to a passage from Todd's Parliamentary Government published in 1889. It makes the statement that "the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury is the official head of the Department and of the whole Civil Service." I do not think that necessarily means that there was so formal an appointment as was made in 1919, but it does at least show that this authoritative constitutional text-book had that impression, and it is the more striking because that sentence does not occur in the earlier edition of Todd's book. It shows a deliberate insertion in tie light of changing events.

Again, I think not enough justice is done to the significance of Mr. Robert Lowe's remark. In 1872 he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. A debate took place in the House of Commons on the subject of whether or not the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office ought to have a bigger salary than other Permanent Secretaries. That was what the discussion was about and it was argued that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury already had a bigger salary. Mr. Lowe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, interposed to point out that the Permanent Head of the Treasury was also at the head of the Civil Service, and he gave that as a reason for his being paid a bigger salary than the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office and the other Permanent Secretaries. I do not think that that testimony is weakened in the least by reason of the fact that it was an interruption. I was brought up at the Bar to observe the rule—which I may say that I have very seldom succeeded in observing—that you should not interrupt your opponent unless your interruption will put him completely on his back. I wish I had always followed out that precept. But this interruption by Robert Lowe was extremely pertinent and none the worse for being an interruption, and it is a very clear indication that, although it was not in so formal a shape as long ago as 1872, this situation in substance was then recognized.

In the old days, of course, there was no single Civil Service. Pepys was a civil servant of the Admiralty and nobody in his senses would have supposed that he would be transposed to another Department. Charles Lamb was a clerk in the India House. Perhaps he was not a civil servant in the full sense of the term, but there was no question of his being em- ployed in another office. Those of you who continue to study the works of Charles Dickens and who know Little Dorrit will recall the author's satire relating to the Circumlocution Office and the family of Tite Barnacle. In that office, you will remember, when one member died or retired another member of the family was appointed in his place. Now the man to whom we owe it that we have got out of that bad system was Robert Peel. It was he who, in the middle of the last century, insisted that our Civil Service should be recruited by examination conducted by Civil Service Commissioners and that people who succeeded in the examination should become members of the Civil Service as a Service and not merely members of the staff of a certain office. The result has come about—slowly, I agree—that we have this enormous advantage now in this country, that when a man of ability and power distinguishes himself in one Department he is not immured in that Department for ever, but has opportunities for advancement over a much wider range of duties. I think the noble Earl is quite right when he says that down to 1919 or 1920 this thing was not formalized and put on a definite footing, but I think an examination would go to show that in an earlier period it was gradually being realized.

My noble friend asked two questions. I am perfectly ready to answer them; in fact they are, if I may say so, easy questions. First of all, he wanted to know whether the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury could intervene in questions of policy relating to Departments other than the Treasury. The answer is really this, that questions of policy are not for civil servants at all, either for the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury or for anyone else; they are for Ministers, and especially for Cabinet Ministers, and for the Cabinet. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer both have a good deal of say in the policy of the Government as a whole. On many matters the Chancellor of the Exchequer exercises, in the nature of things, a considerable and perhaps a preponderating influence; that is why there are so many Ministerial conferences at the Treasury. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's responsibilities in this regard are, or may be, delegated by him within certain limits to his permanent officials; for instance, it is quite common to put a Treasury man on a Committee which is being organized by another Department. These officials, in their different spheres, carry out duties on his behalf and under his general direction; but, if my noble friend is suggesting that the status or title of official Head of the Civil Service confers on the Permanent Secretary some right or power not inherent in his position as Secretary to the Treasury, then I can give him the most explicit assurance on that point. I am very glad to do so, because I think it will remove what may be a misapprehension and a danger. This gentleman enjoys no form of independent authority inconsistent with the constitutional responsibility of Ministers who direct him. Of course, like all civil servants, he is entirely subject to the authority of the Government of the day, and bound loyally to carry out their directions.

I hope that my noble friend will not mind if I say that, if he will set my statement against his analysis, he will see that there is a number of points which do call for correction. From the simple fact that the Prime Minister looks to the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, among others, for advice, he deduces that these appointments in the Civil Service are in effect nominations by the Permanent Secretary, that the Minister concerned has no right of direct access to the Prime Minister on the subject, that an appointment may be made without the Minister's knowledge or agreement—it would be very difficult to do that, since it is the Minister who has to make the appointment—that high civil servants owe administrative allegiance to the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury as well as to their own Minister, that the Deputy Head of a Department may be appointed without consultation with the Permanent Head, and that the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, by virtue of his, status as official Head of the Civil Service, is in a position to interfere in questions of policy in other Departments, to undermine the authority of Ministers over their permanent staffs, and thus impinge on the control of Parliament itself, to whom these Ministers are responsible. My noble friend asked me to approach this matter in a judicial spirit, and I must therefore pronounce judgment. I should be greatly embarrassed if in any capacity I had to defend any of those deductions; but it will be a great relief to my noble friend to know that none of these propositions which he has deduced from my answer has any foundation at all.

I will conclude by asking him, when he replies, to answer two short questions, because I should not like to class him amongst the men who, when convinced against their will, still tend to maintain their former judgment. When the time comes, I am sure that my noble friend will answer these questions in the frankest way in the world. Is not it clearly right that the Prime Minister should be constitutionally responsible for approving these higher appointments? That is my first question. My second question is this: If that is so, should not the Prime Minister be allowed to seek advice from his own advisers on so important a matter? I do not think that there can be any doubt as to the answer to either question. I will say only that, as far as my reading and practical knowledge go, I have never heard of or met a Minister of a Department who complained that an appointment made after these discussions and consultations was not an appointment which he could accept as the best which could be made in the circumstances.


My Lords, the noble Earl who introduced this Motion has certainly brought before us a matter of first-class national importance, and some of the statements to which we have just listened from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will rank also as being of great consequence, for he has made some statements with regard to the scope of the functions of the Head of the Civil Service which needed saying. I think, however, that this matter goes a good deal further than the reply of the noble and learned Viscount. I am not in a position to dispute, and have no desire to dispute, the historical accuracy of what he has told us, and I was myself there in 1919 and 1920, and may have a brief reflection to make before I finish on what actually happened at that time.

I should like to say that a good many of the stones that are cast at the Civil Service are quite unfairly thrown at it. I myself have had a long and intimate experience of work with the Civil Service, and, so far as I know, no Service in the world is marked by a greater standard of loyalty to those who direct it and by greater and more consistent integrity throughout the Service. But, that being so, it behoves us all the same to be very much on the alert lest anything should arise, not so much out of paper prescriptions but by insidious practice, which may do something to damage that very precious national possession. I cannot help but think that some things have happened, and have been gradually happening, as it were, by stealth, to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has not paid as much attention as I should have liked, and which were perhaps in the mind of the noble Earl who opened this debate.

I think that all of us who have had experience of office w ill agree that many of the accusations which are made against the Civil Service of attempting to dominate policy or to dominate a Minister are the fault of the Minister himself. I myself have never known an instance, in several quite big offices, where, if the Minister took a definite line of policy, he was not loyally supported; but, of course, if a Minister is not fit to be a Minister—and there have been such people—and cannot prescribe his Fahey to the Department, perhaps it is rather fortunate for the community that there is somebody there who will help to do the job for him. It often happens that a feeble Minister is responsible for some of the accusations which are brought—quite unfairly—against the Civil Service for doing his job for him. But when we have said all that I think there is much more behind the Motion that the noble Earl has brought before the House. The head of a Service has ever so many functions besides consulting with the Prime Minister or the Minister of the Department as to who should be the Chief Secretary. That event happens only rarely. The whole question of the discipline of the Service, the opportunities of advancement to capable men, and the selection of men must to a great extent depend upon the advice given by the man who is really the head. Matters of training, discipline, and all sorts of other questions vital to the wellbeing and development of the Service must belong to the duties of the man who is the head, and we have not heard much about them, or anything about them to-day so far.

May I just deal with the first point that was raised—namely, the appointment of the Permanent Secretary to a Department? I can confirm the account which the noble and learned Viscount gives as to how that matter is ordinarily dealt with. But I myself was, shall I say the victim of, or at all events a participator in, an incident in 1919 which had something to do with the beginning of the deliberations to which the noble Lord has referred. Let me recall the facts. At that time I was the President of the Local Government Board, and it was my duty to bury that institution and bring into being the Ministry of Health. That was one of my jobs. The Secretary of the previous Local Government Board was retired, and it therefore became necessary to appoint a head of the Ministry of Health, and the man whom o I wished to appoint was Sir Robert Morant, who had been head of the Insurance Commission. I have a lively recollection of receiving one evening a visit from the Head of the Treasury—or rather the Head of the Civil Service, as we are asked to describe him—informing me that it was suggested that somebody else should be the Secretary of the Department. I, of course, having in that particular case had intimate and long acquaintance with the man I wanted to appoint, who was a very eminent civil servant, immediately took the matter to the Prime Minister, and there was some considerable disputation during the evening, but it did in fact happen as I wanted it. Of course Sir Robert Morant was appointed.

But I think it is fair to say that, unless a Minister happens to have had previous experience or knowledge of important civil servants, or perhaps has not altogether the firmest convictions that he ought to have, he may find himself presented with a Permanent Secretary who, as he will then discover, is not en rapport with the policy which he is trying to develop. The Minister is responsible to Parliament for the efficient work of his Department, and if it goes wrong that is his responsibility. But he is entitled to be served by a staff that is loyal and helpful. As I have said before, I have never known an instance where that loyal help was not given. But I think it is right to say that this title of Head of the Civil Service, which has been freely used during the last few years, was completely new to me, although I was in the Government until 1919. I think you are entitled to look to the development of a system whereby you will have con sidered consultation, whereby there will be a regular, understood, known procedure for discussing promotion, for considering who are the best men, for considering methods of developing discovery of the best men, and things of that kind.

We have here, as the Committee on National Expenditure reported the other day, the fact that both in the Report of the Bradbury Committee and that of the Haldane Committee of 1918 on the machinery of Government, certain specific, or fairly specific, recommendations are made as to the kind of procedure that should be adopted in the Treasury. Later on the Tomlin Commission returned to the point, and the point was that there should be a body of persons bringing in men from the outside—business men—who should be cognizant of what were the developments of the Civil Service, should be advised upon the new methods of procedure, and upon a number of other matters which are briefly indicated in the Report of the Committee on National Expenditure. The Bradbury Committee, for example, recommended the creation of a Standing Committee of Establishment Officers for the purpose of guiding and assisting the Treasury. The Tomlin Commission went further than that, and recommended that a body of persons, some of whom should be from outside, should be permanently advising the Treasury as to selection and training, and other matters, and I see that the Committee on National Expenditure, having reviewed these recommendations, say this: As far as the study and progress of administrative organization is concerned, the record of the period between the two wars is singularly disappointing. They go on to say that the wise and farsighted recommendations of the Tomlin Commission might have been expected to give a fresh impetus to the study and review of administrative organization. Again the results were negligible.… there was no overt sign that the Treasury or the Departments accepted the proposition that the organization of administrative machinery was a subject requiring expert and specialized study or that any lessons in the art of management could be learned from industry and commerce either in this country or abroad. These are the deliberate findings of this Committee. I well remember that in the discussions which took place in 1919 it was in the minds of practically all of us that there should be a body of people, including business men from outside, regularly associated with the Treasury so as to devise a system of giving good men a better chance and for dealing with training and a number of other matters. The fact is that none of these things has been developed. I believe the main reason for that is that until quite recently—and like the noble Earl none of us would wish to make any reflection upon the existing Head of the Treasury—it is a fact that during the greater part of the period between the two wars the Heads of the Treasury have not encouraged the development of the kind of organization the Bradbury Committee, the Haldane Commission, and the Tomlin Commission all recommended and which I am quite sure should have been developed. The result of that inevitably has been that there has been a monopoly (shall we say?) of authority—if you like of patronage—in the hands of the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury which is not in the interest of the public service. I have heard it said—with what measure of justice I am not prepared to say, not having been on the spot and not knowing the facts—that there was not much chance of promotion for a man up to the last few years, certainly during several years between the two wars, unless he happened to be persona grata with the Head of the Treasury. That is wrong. We ought now to have a system whereby the Prime Minister and the Minister concerned should not be solely dependent—if they are solely dependent—upon the advice of the Head of the Treasury, however eminent a person he may be. Establishment and organization should, in my view, be under a separate head altogether, and there should be a body of independent persons, partly from the Civil Service and partly from outside, to advise and continually to have under review opportunities for advancement and methods of selection of the best men.

What is behind the Motion of the noble Earl is not, I think, so much the form of words of any particular Treasury Minute. It is not so much the history of the title, but the practice that has grown up during the last twenty years, largely because the recommendations of these outside and independent bodies have not received effect. There are two other matters which should have been within the scope of the work of the Head of the Treasury but which have been, as far as I know, largely neglected in the last twenty years. One is the interchange of men between Departments. What the Lord Chancellor said is quite true. He gave a list of men, most of whom had come from somewhere else, like the head of the Air Ministry, Sir Arthur Street, and so on. Very good; but every one of us who has been in office must have known many cases of really good men who have been buried for years in one Department. I well remember one of the very best men I knew in the Civil Service, now retired, confessing to me the sense of freedom he had when at last he was brought up from the cellars of Somerset House, in which he had been for fifteen years, and given a chance. That is completely wrong. That kind of thing would not happen if we had attached to the head of the Treasury an adequate organization dealing with establishment and personnel to prevent that kind of stagnation occurring in the Service.

There is one other thing I should like to say, one which has been recommended and talked about since the days of the Haldane Commission on the Machinery of Government. That is the need for men in the Civil Service to get a breath of fresh air. We have a Sabbatical year in some parts of the world, which is a very good scheme. Some have suggested a Civil Service Staff College. The only objection have to that is that they would all be civil servants there still. I should like them to have a bit of the outside world during this period of break. There should be a system which would give a postgraduate training, so to speak, to all members of the Civil Service periodically and regularly. It would be better for them, and better for the esteem and reputation of the Service throughout the country. I know from my own personal experience that these things have been talked about for twenty years, and nothing effective has been done. I believe that the main fault, from which we have suffered more than a good many people outside suspect, has been the bringing into the hands of the Head of the Treasury, as so-called Head of the Civil Service, far too much power, far too much authority, over the lives and prospects of all the people in the Civil Service. It is not in the interests of the Civil Service that this kind of thing should grow up, and it is certainly not in the interests of the State. For that reason this discussion may serve an exceedingly useful purpose.


My Lords, I should like in the first place to re-echo what has fallen with such authority from the Leader of the Opposition—his testimony to the great efficiency of the Civil Service and to the immense debt which we in this country lie under for their character, their knowledge, and their achievements. Too much cannot be said, on that side. If in any way in this debate your Lordships think it right to criticize any aspect of the Civil Service, it must not be thought that we underrate for a moment what We owe to them. I, personally, in my limited Ministerial experience, owe an immense debt to those who served with me as permanent civil servants. I do not propose to go into the history of this subject. That was a matter of debate in 1937, as the noble Earl has reminded us. I should not like to commit myself absolutely to every word he said with regard to that history, but I do not think it is very material. It is with the present rather than the past that we are concerned. I do not think it can be denied by any noble Lord that there is a feeling of uneasiness as to the precise position of the heads of the Civil Service at this moment, and, if I may say so with great respect, the noble Earl who is responsible for this Motion deserves the gratitude of your Lordships' House for having brought. the matter forward in the very moderate language he used.

I think it is a very important matter. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack was at pains to defend the existing system and practice. With a great deal of what he said we should all agree, but I am a little surprised that he thought it right to be so emphatic in his defence of the existing state of things. One would almost think from hearing him that there was no case for criticism whatever.


With great respect to the noble Marquess, may I point out that the question put and the debate up to the time I spoke had to do with nothing except the way in which certain high officials in Departments are appointed, and it was on that, and on that alone, I made the observations.


Perhaps I might say that though I agree that was the main part of my noble and learned friend's speech, he did touch upon what was called the interference of the Head of the Civil Service in matters of policy at the end of his speech. It would not be strictly accurate to say he only dealt with the other point. There is undoubtedly a feeling of uneasiness. But let me say one or two words about this question of the alleged interference of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury with the appointments in the other Departments. I think the first advantage which has arisen from this debate has been the emphatic declaration of the Lord Chancellor that appointments of Permanent Heads of the Departments where there is a vacancy are primarily the obligation of the Departmental Minister, of course, with the consent of the Prime Minister. That I understood was the effect of the phrase of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. As the Lord Chancellor went on he developed it, and he left me in a little doubt whether the appointment was to be that of the Prime Minister with the assent of the Departmental Minister, or that of the Departmental Minister with the consent of the Prime Minister. There was a little haze left as to where the line was going to be drawn. I should like to submit to your Lordships that an appointment to a vacancy is the duty of the Minister of the Department with the consent of the Prime Minister.

The Lord Chancellor went on to elaborate that, and said in effect: "Well then, the poor Prime Minister must have somebody to consult; you cannot expect the Prime Minister to do these things entirely off his own bat; he must have somebody to consult; therefore, he must consult the Permanent Head of the Treasury, and that is where the Permanent Head of the Treasury comes in." The Prime Minister, of course, must be entitled to consult other people besides himself, not only the Permanent Head of the Treasury, not by any means only the Permanent Head of the Treasury. He would be entitled to consult, indeed it would be the obvious thing for him to consult in certain cases, former Ministers of the Department belonging, it might be, to his own particular Party, or, as it might well be, belonging to a Party holding political views opposed to his own. The help of such opponents he might be grad to get in assisting him to make a good appointment as the Permanent Secretary of a Department.

Please do not let it be thought for a moment that the Prime Minister has nothing to do except to go to the Secretary of the Treasury and say "Now, you tell me whom I ought to appoint." That would be a most unfortunate conclusion. I do not mean for a moment to say that that is what the Lord Chancellor said, and I do not think he meant it; but the tendency of his mind was towards the direction of putting the Prime Minister and the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury in a ringed fence and saying "they are the people who have got to solve the problem." There is uneasiness that, if the Prime Minister is in the habit of going to the Head of the Treasury, gradually the Head of the Treasury may get very much more authority in making these appointments than it is really healthy he should have. I go further. I am a little afraid that to some extent that has happened, and it is because of this reason that I venture to thank the noble Earl for having brought this subject under your Lordships' notice. We want in this country to avoid as far as we can anything like bureaucracy. That would not be claimed by any of the great civil servants of the past, but there is a risk of it; there is a risk of the gradual invasion of the Ministerial responsibility by the bureaucratic authority of permanent officials. The permanent officials have great advantages, they have immense knowledge, they have immense ability and they can upon that platform have immense influence. Of course they should have influence, but not prevailing influence. The prevailing influence should be and must be, if things are to be healthy, the responsibility of the Minister who is himself responsible to Parliament.

I have said much upon this question of the appointments, but it goes further than the mere question of appointments. As I ventured to say just now, at the end of his speech the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack did touch upon the suggestion that the permanent officials were inclined, or might be inclined, to interfere in policy. There is uneasiness upon that. I hold in my hand a passage from a letter which was addressed to The Times by Sir Walford Selby under date August 28 last. Sir Walford Selby, as everyone knows in your Lordships' House, is a man of great distinction who has served the Crown as a permanent civil servant both at home and abroad with very great credit and great advantage to his country. He has immense experience because he was not only for many years in the Foreign Office but he served successive Foreign Ministers as private secretary and afterwards became Ambassador on important missions in Europe. This is what Sir Walford Selby said in his letter: Undoubtedly the operation of the office of the Head of the Civil Service has in recent years tended to interfare in matters of policy. I hope the noble and learned Viscount will note that that is the view of Sir Walford Selby. He goes on a little later: In all questions of policy it seems vital that the authority of Ministers over the Departments entrusted to their care should be placed beyond question, as in the days before the office of Head of the Civil Service was called into being in 1919. Sir Walford is quite fair in the way he states it. He admits that the Head of the Civil Service was recognized certainly in 1919—perhaps before—and he points out that since that time there is a risk, a tendency he says, for the Head of the Civil Service to interfere in policy. Therefore, if I may say so with profound respect to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, it is not reasonable to sweep aside all uneasiness as if it did not exist. There it is and it is for that reason that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has brought the subject before your Lordships' House. I think it is very important that he has got in reply, first of all, the emphatic statement of the Lord Chancellor that appointments to vacancies in the permanent staff of art office are the appointments of the Minister, although, of course, made with the consent of the Prime Minister. He also said in a most emphatic form at the end of his speech, that the Permanent Head of the Civil Service has no right to try—I do not want to misquote him—to interfere in policy.

I hope your Lordships will not think for a moment that I am so foolish as to say that a Minister would not wish to consult his permanent officials. Of course he would. They are everything to him. They tell him everything that has been done before, what an the precedents and what are the pitfalls that may be in his path. If he is properly served and has a first-rate permanent head of his Department, as I have had, that always happens. In the case of which I am speaking the advice given to me was digested, everything was made easy for me, and it was brought up to the one point of decision. I was told all the precedents and the dangers, but the permanent official did not go a step further. He said: "I have told you all that you ought to know; it is for you to decide." That is the proper attitude of the permanent officials to Ministers, and most emphatically is that true of the Head of the Civil Service. He ought to be bound by this convention and I hope very much that this debate may make that quite clear.

If I am not taking too much of your Lordships' time I should like to mention one other point. I think it most important that permanent officials should not become in any sense responsible for policy. The practice up to now in this country has been that if any mistake is made in government the Minister bears the responsibility for it. He has to answer for it and that is right. The permanent official has no opportunity of coming before your Lordships' House or of going to another place and defending himself. If an attack were made on him he would not be there to repel the attack. But it once it got to be known that a permanent official was interfering in policy and taking too much upon himself, people would begin to say: "If this is done upon the advice of So-and-so, we should like to have him before us, we should like to question him as to what interference he has been responsible for." That would entirely revolutionize the system upon which we go at present. Let the political Minister be completely responsible and let the permanent official be his assistant in every way in coming to his conclusions. That should be the case, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said, whether the Government is a Conservative, a Liberal or a Labour Government. It may easily happen that a permanent official, having given advice one day to a Conservative Government, may have to give advice within a very few days to a political head who takes a very different view of the subject in question. I hope that in what I have said I have not used any language which can be considered of an extreme kind. I think all these matters of constitutional practice ought to be approached in what the noble Earl called a judicial spirit. All we want to do is to carry on our business in the best possible way according to the best possible traditions which we have learnt.


My Lords, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, pointed out when he initiated this debate, this question is not raised for the first time in your Lordships' House. It has been debated here and in another place not so long ago and a question by the noble Earl was answered only a few months ago. Like so many of your Lordships I have been in more than one Administration and anything I may say, therefore, is the result of the experience which I happen to have had. That is really the only justification I have for taking part in this debate. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has dealt so fully with the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that it is not necessary for one to deal with then; in detail. As I understand the noble Earl's case it was divided into two parts. He said, first of all, that the present position of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury gives him a power of patronage and an influence which are inconsistent with his duty as a civil servant, and it is said—I think I am using his own words—that it may derogate from the power of the Minister himself and really impinge upon the Minister's duties. His second point was that the title of Head of the Civil Service has no historical basis and that it dates merely from 1919; that it is a title which is unfair to the Civil Service as a whole, and is one therefore which ought to be abolished.

From such experience as I have had and from such study as I have been able to give to this matter, I believe the noble Earl's suspicions are unfounded and that his criticisms are, if I may say so, unsubstantial. I will give my reasons quite briefly. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, in a reply which, if may say so with great respect, I think was absolutely necessary in order to put the matter on a proper footing, gave a very short account of what really is the history of this great machinery of government. He pointed out that, in the early days of the nineteenth century, indeed up to the middle of the nineteenth century, the Civil Service as we know it did not exist. Up to the time of Sir Robert Peel, and afterwards, the machinery of government was merely a collection of isolated, independent units—to use the Lord Chancellor's words—independent Departments acting quite independently of each other, staffed by nominees who were, in effect, the servants of the Minister. How they were paid I do not know. Probably their salaries were borne on the Civil List, but for the purposes of this debate that does not matter. Then he went on to point out that when in what we now know as the Civil Service all those Departments were welded into one whole instead of being isolated, there was constant communication between one Department and another, and that the head of each Department was first the Minister and then the Permanent Secretary.

I need not point out how necessary is that interaction and contact between different Departments. Take the Department with which I am most familiar, the Ministry of Labour. Nothing was more important than that we should have almost daily contacts with such Departments as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and, perhaps, the Home Office. Our officials were in communication certainly every week, and sometimes almost every day, as indeed were the Ministers. That is absolutely essential for the proper working of our machinery of government. The moment you get to the point where you have a vast organization like the Civil Service, unless you are to have chaos and confusion it is obviously necessary that you must have some body to control it; you must have a controlling body responsible for such matters as salaries and conditions and to keep control over the working and organization. By common consent that Department has been the Treasury. This matter has been discussed from time to time. There were three or four Committees or Commissions that I can think of—the Bradbury Commission, the Tomlin Commission, the Haldane Corn-mission and that very critical Committee of the House of Commons which discussed the matter recently and said in most explicit terms that they made no recommendation that the control should be taken away from the Treasury.

The Head of the Treasury is the Permanent Secretary; therefore he is the man who, above all others, knows, or ought to know, all that is going on in all the Departments of State. It is his business to know of matters relating to the personnel, the duties and the activities of the Departments, and to keep his eye upon the actions of the different Departments. If that be a correct picture —and I am trying to summarize what the Lord Chancellor said—what is the position of a Minister? The experience of Lord Addison, who I am sorry to see is not at the moment in his place, confirms my own exactly. If the office of Permanent Secretary to a Ministry becomes vacant—and as we know appointments to the positions of Permanent Secretary and Deputy Secretary and Principal Finance Officer and Principal Establishment Officer have to receive the assent of the Prime Minister—what happens? I can only speak from knowledge gained from my own experience, and I say that what happens is this. When one of these offices becomes vacant, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury goes to see the Minister, and makes certain suggestions as to who shall fill the vacant post. The Minister, naturally, wants to get the best man for the job. He has the whole field of the Civil Service from which to draw, and he wishes to get a man with the qualifications which he is looking for. These qualifications, of course, include such matters as character, personality and experience. He would want to know whether the suggestions put forward by the Permanent Secretary include a man with whom he thinks he could work amicably and as a colleague, for of course a Permanent Secretary is the colleague of a Minister. If agreement is come to then the Minister agrees to the appointment, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury agrees to make the necessary recommendation, the Prime Minister assents, and the appointment is made by the Minister.

If, however—though I personally have never known of such a case—there is disagreement, I have no doubt that what would happen (I think my noble friend Lord Addison said it happened in his case) would be that the Minister would go to the Prime Minister and say: "I do not agree with the advice tendered to you by the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury." I cannot conceive a case in which a Prime Minister would attempt to press upon a reluctant Minister some Permanent Secretary who was repugnant to him, because the Department just would not work if that sort of thing happened. Unless agreement is subsequently reached no doubt the Minister would then suggest somebody, the Prime Minister would agree with him and the appointment would be made by the Minister himself. That is what happens in the case of a Permanent Secretary. With regard to a Deputy Permanent Secretary I really could not follow my noble friend the Earl of Perth when he said that the Minister had nothing to do with the matter, or words to that effect. I think he said that the Minister himself was left out of it, that the matter was taken out of the Minister's hands and it became a question for the Financial Secretary himself.


My Lords, I think my noble friend will find that what I said was that as regards the Deputy Permanent Secretary I desired to ask a simple question, whether the Permanent Secretary would be consulted and his advice taken, because there was nothing about that in the answer.


I am obliged to my noble friend. Of course the Permanent Secretary would be consulted. I may say that I have had personal experience of this myself. What happens is that a Minister and the Permanent Secretary decide between them who they think would be the best man in or out of the Department—in the case of a Deputy Permanent Secretary probably in the Department—and then they would see the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and tell him of the man with regard to whom they had agreed. The Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, unless he had special reasons for thinking otherwise, would advise the Prime Minister accordingly. If, having special reasons, he did advise the Prime Minister otherwise, then it would become a question between the Minister and the Prime Minister, and I think there would be little reason to doubt what the result would be. That is how the matter works out in practice. I cannot think of or suggest any improvement that can be made. It is quite right that the Prime Minister should hear the views of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. With regard to what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, I take it that it is open to the Prime Minister to consult anybody he likes. He need not accept the advice of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury if he has any reason to think that other opinions might be useful or valuable. It is open to him, I think, to ask the opinion of anyone he likes.


I said so.


SO much for Lord Perth's first point. With regard to his second point, he says that the title of Head of the Civil Service has no historical sanction. I do not know that that point is worth pursuing, but it is perhaps worth saying that I have before me Hansard for the year 1872, and there I find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said: The Secretary of the Treasury was not an Under-Secretary of State; he was at the head of the Civil Service. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time was Mr. Lowe. It is quite true, as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has said, that he resigned shortly afterwards, and was succeeded by another Chancellor of the Exchequer; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer by whom he was succeeded was Mr. Gladstone, who was both Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Gladstone's views on constitutional propriety were so strict and so rigid that I regard it as unthinkable that, at any rate when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would not have removed any doubts that there were on the matter if he thought that Mr. Lowe's statement needed any correcting. Be that as it may, I myself would be disposed to think that the Civil Service as a body pay very little attention and attach very little importance to the title "Head of the Civil Service." What they are concerned with are the duties of the Permanent Head of the Treasury and the way in which he performs them. I think that they care very little whether he is called the Head of the Civil Service or not.

The suggestion has been made, I think both by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that there has been a growing tendency for the Civil Service to attain an influence which they ought not to have—that their influence is great, is growing, and ought to be diminished. I do not offer any opinion on whether that be so or not, but I feel sure that, if that is true, one of the reasons why the influence of the civil servants is growing is the frequent changes of the personnel of the Ministers themselves. Until he knows his job, a Minister is bound to be largely in the hands of civil servants; and, if a Ministry is constantly having a change of Ministers, the, danger is that the whole Ministry becomes far too much under the influence of civil servants.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, referred to a letter by Sir Walford Selby, who is a most distinguished member of the Foreign Office. There are many distinguished members of the Foreign Office who have been present to-day, and none more distinguished than the noble Earl who moved this Motion. It may be said that all that has been stated about contacts with other Departments, the taking of officials from other Departments to fill offices, and so on, is perfectly true, but does not apply to the Foreign Office. It may be said that the Foreign Office is a thing apart, that the Foreign Office has no contacts with other Departments, and that its contacts are not with the Ministry of Labour or the Ministry of Health, but, through its representatives, with the Chancelleries of the nations, and therefore that all that has been said with regard to contacts does not apply to it. I have never been in the Foreign Office or had any official connexion with it, but I think I am right in saying that it is never the case that a Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office is appointed from outside the Foreign Office itself; there is no interchange between the officials of the Foreign Office and other Departments. I have sometimes thought—although I have never until this moment had the temerity to say it—that it would be a good thing if there was some interchange of officials, in the lower grades, between the Foreign Office and other Departments, so that the officials of the Foreign Office might be brought face to face with some of the problems of trade, commerce and employment which have such tremendous international reactions. I say that, however, entirely by way of parenthesis.

If it be true, as it is, that the position of the Foreign Office is rather different, for the reasons which I have indicated, from that of any other Department, it is also true, it seems to me, that the relations between the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister must necessarily be more intimate than those between the Prime Minister and any other Minister in the Cabinet; because political biographies are full of instances of decisions of the greatest moment having been taken by the Foreign Secretary after consultation with the Prime o Minister. It is obvious that on all matters of such importance relating to foreign affairs the Prime Minister must be consulted by the Foreign Secretary, and that they must work absolutely as one. I think that that is true of all Foreign Secretaries and of all Prime Ministers, with the exception, of course, of Lord Palmerston, who solved these problems by the simple process of never consulting anyone except himself—an example which has not been widely followed by other Foreign Secretaries. If that be so, if that relationship is so close—as it is and must be—then it seems to me incredible that the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office should ever be appointed except with the fullest concurrence of the Foreign Secretary and of the Prime Minister; and therefore any question of undue influence or outside influence or anything of that kind does not arise. For the reasons which I have, however imperfectly, tried to express, it seems to me that the fears of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, are unfounded, and his suspicion unjustified.


My Lords, my approach to this question is rather different from that of most ex-civil servants, because I was a civil servant for less than half of my time in the public service, and in only one of the three offices which I held so long; not as Clerk of the Council, not as Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence, but only as Secretary to the Cabinet. In addition to that, I have seen a great deal of the Civil Service in the two-and-a-half years for which I was a Minister of the Crown. My point of view, therefore, is, I hope, a very detached one.

In order to put the matter in a proper perspective, I want, however, to make it quite clear that during the forty years for which I have been in close contact with the Civil Service, and with admirable opportunities of watching it from the inside, I have formed the very highest impression of the efficiency of the Service in all its ranks; and I should like to associate myself with all that my noble friend Lord Addison and my noble friend Lord Salisbury have said on that subject. As Secretary-General of a number of International Conferences, it fell to me to organize a good many international secretariats, and I have worked in exactly half-a-dozen, foreign capitals for weeks and months together in the closest association with foreign Civil Services. And though I found much to admire I want to place on record my view that our Civil Service is easily the best of any that I have come across. It did a great job in the last war, and it is doing a great job in this war, from the over-worked heads of Departments, through the much-diluted staffs and down to the junior ranks of clerks and typists and char-women (if they are civil servants) who never wilted in the height of the "blitz."

I did not quite understand the position of civil servants with regard to policy, on which my noble friend Lord Salisbury commented. I am sure he would agree that civil servants do have to advise on policy, just as the Chief of Staff has to advise on policy. The old accusation against the civil servant was that his experience was such that he was unable to take responsibility. Now the tendency rather seems to be to suggest that he is taking too much responsibility. If that is the case, I am glad that the tendency should be that way rather than the other. In an imperfect world, however, there is always room for improvement, and everything has to be brought up to date and kept up to date; and in any comments that I make I hope it will not be thought that I am crabbing, but that they are purely constructive and rather tentative. There seem to me to be certain principles which govern the subject, and which I think emerge from the discussion. First of all, the Treasury is, and must remain, the Central Department of Government, because finance is the one link that runs right through Government Departments, and in the last resort controls the policy of Governments in all its operations. Secondly, the work of the civil servant, as developed by Sir Warren Fisher and his able successors, must go on, as it has proved of very great efficiency to the Service.

Lord Rushcliffe has pointed out some of the services that it renders: But the points that impressed me most as a witness of what was going on were the following. There was first the modernization of the Service which he effected, including amenities, such as canteens, playing grounds, facilities for recreation, such as are provided by any good up-to-date firm. There was the fostering of esprit de corps, not only in the Departments but in the Civil Service itself. Then there were the improvement and arrangement of discipline throughout the Civil Service. And when I say that, I should add that there was one exceptional case, in my opinion, where a very able civil servant was treated too harshly, to the detriment of the public service, and I think advantage should be taken of these days when we are all pulling together to redress that matter. Another thing that was carried on was the watching of the careers of promising young men and women in the Civil Service, and the arrangement of transfers from one Department to another, of which my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has given a number of examples, with a view to preventing officials from getting into a rut. All that work did a great deal to tide the Civil Service and the country over the period of national ferment after the last war.

There is a third principle, and that is that the work begun so well by Sir Warren Fisher does require a head, whatever his position. There is a great deal to be done, I am sure, to modernize the Service, for instance, with regard to the position of scientists; that is one point that ought to be improved. It may have been right, and I think it probably was right, that when this big work began it should be taken under the wing of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, with his great influence and driving force. As it went on. however, the work expanded, and it seemed to me that it absorbed most of his energies. I do feel doubt whether it should continue to be attached to that office. Before coming to that, however, I should like to refer to a point which has a close bearing on it—namely, the higher appointments in the Civil Service. The object, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe said, is to get the best men available, judged by character, temperament, and experience. The legal position has been explained by the Lord Chancellor with his usual lucidity, but there is always a certain amount of fluidity in the application. In this matter I should place very high indeed the question of compatibility with the Minister. In saying that I assume the normal tenure of office by the Minister, and not the general post which has become common in recent days. This mutual understanding in any great enterprise is tremendously important. Just think of the last war—Foch and Weygand, Botha and Smuts, Beatty and Chatfield, Plumer and Harington—and in this war Alexander and Tedder, Montgomery and Coningham and many others. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, has given an instance of the Civil Service in his own case, and I could give others.

This aspect is so important that my view is that the Minister concerned should have both the initiative and, subject to the Prime Minister's concurrence, the last word; and I was very glad to gather from what the Lord Chancellor said that this is actually the case. But with regard to the initiative, I was just a tiny bit shaken by what Lord Rushcliffe said, because he said that when a vacancy occurs the Head of the Treasury comes to the Minister. Now my own feeling is that the initiative should be with the Minister, and not with the Head of the Civil Service. The Minister would, of course, always be wise to consult the Head of the Civil Service before he approaches the Prime Minister in order that he may get the point of view of the public service before consulting the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister, of course, will always consult him, but, as several speakers have said, the Prime Minister is always at perfect liberty to consult anyone. I remember that Mr. Asquith used to say that he was entitled as Prime Minister to consult anyone he liked. I agree with the Lord Chancellor that in most cases their views would coincide. The reason I referred to the importance of the initiative resting with the Minister is that I think it should be understood that the position of the Head of the Civil Service is consultative rather than advisory.

That brings us back to the question whether the Head of the Civil Service should be the same person as the Secretary of the Treasury. There is a strong argument for that because the Treasury, owing to its close financial association with the Departments on all levels, does get a tremendous lot of information about the personnel of Government Departments, and whatever is done in the way of reorganization it is important that that source of information should be available to the Head of the Civil Service. But I doubt if that advantage overrides the disadvantages of his being the Head of the Treasury. The first and obvious disadvantage is that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury is supposed, in principle, to help the Chancellor of the Exchequer to run the finances of the country. I do not believe that that was the case after the last war because the occupant of the post became so tremendously absorbed in his duties as Head of the Civil Service. I am very glad to see that the latest appointment to the post is that of a man of high financial authority.

The second objection, even more important, is that it is unsound from a psychological point of view that the civil servants of all the Departments should feel that their future is almost entirely dependent on the Permanent Head of the Financial Department of the Government. Civil servants of all ranks must always be free to support the policy of their Minister—if necessary to "fight his corner" even against the Treasury—without any lurking doubt in their minds as to any effect this might have on their careers. I used to wonder sometimes whether this was not one of the factors that affected the extraordinary and almost dangerous grip which the financial authorities obtained before the war in at least one of she Fighting Services and to a certain extent in others, and which I believe was a factor in the backwardness of our war preparations. It applied with special severity during the period of the calamitous, ten years' rule, and the effect of it continued for years after that rule was cancelled. I even encountered traces of it in an inquiry I had to make after Dunkirk. Although I cite the Service Departments, the same would apply in the case of other spending Departments.

Bearing on this matter is the position of duality in the combination of the offices of Secretary to the Treasury and Head' of the Civil Service. There is nothing to prevent him from agreeing to, and even welcoming, a proposal as Head of the Civil Service without being able to endorse it from the financial point of view. I shall give an example of that by quoting the position of Permanent Secretary to the Treasury in the Committee of imperial Defence. Some of your Lordships will remember that the historic Report of the Committee on National and Imperial Defence published in 1924, which will ever be associated with the name of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, contained a recommendation as to those who should be invited to attend the Committee of Imperial Defence regularly. Quite properly, the list included the Secretary to the Treasury, who had been summoned ever since the days of Sir Robert Chalmers before the last war, and perhaps earlier, because finance was always recognized as an important element in Defence decisions. But in the Salisbury Report the title appeared for the first time as follows, "Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and Head of the Civil Service."

I did not like that innovation much at the time, and I am not at all sure that my noble friend Lord Salisbury liked it very much more, but it had been a very long and difficult inquiry and it did not seem worth a battle royal. I liked it less in the light of experience. In the old days before the last war the financial aspect of questions coming up at the Committee of Imperial Defence was discussed at the same time as other aspects, and the decision was taken on the merits of the considerations as a whole. Once a decision was taken there was no attempt to go back on it or to delay execution. I can remember only one case to the contrary. But under the Salisbury Report system the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury only represented the Civil Service and not the financial part of the Treasury, and it sometimes happened, owing to the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for instance, or on Sub-Committees, that when some measure had been settled on merits as essential to Imperial Defence, the financial aspects were reserved and had to be fought out afterwards between the Treasury and the Department, or else in the Cabinet, involving delay and possibly even reversal. So in my experience the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury ought to be a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence in his financial capacity, out I see no reason for the Head of the Civil Service being a member because if civil questions are being discussed the heads of the Departments concerned—the political heads and their permanent heads—are summoned to represent their Departments.

The paramount desiderata seem to be as follows: First, the Head of the Civil Service should not be the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury or anyone immediately subordinate to him or belonging to the financial part of the Treasury; second, he should be able to take advantage of the accumulated knowledge existing in the Treasury about the public services; third, he should be, in fact and in general estimation, independent of Treasury interests. It is not really quite so difficult as it sounds to reconcile these apparently conflicting requirements, and I venture with diffidence to suggest a solution. I believe the difficulties would be overcome by placing the Head of the Civil Service in a position exactly parallel to that of the Secretary to the Cabinet or the Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence, which I believe is rather similar to the position of the Heads of the Board of Customs and Excise, the Board of Inland Revenue, and some other similar Departments. The essential feature is that the Votes of the Secretariat to the Cabinet and the Secretariate to the Committee of Imperial Defence are carried, not on the central Vote of the Treasury, but on the Vote of the "Treasury and subordinate Departments."

That makes all the difference. That gives the Secretaries to the Cabinet and to the Committee of Imperial Defence a status and independence which, in practice and in general estimation, is different from that of an official carried on the Votes of the main body of the Treasury. No one would suspect them of being subject in their functions to the Treasury any more than to any other Department, and that is a vital and indispensable factor in the success of their work. To my mind the position which the Head of the Civil Service should occupy is exactly the same as theirs. Like them, he should have direct access to the Prime Minister and other Ministers and Departments. Like them, he should be in very close relations with the Treasury, and should be able to tap their very special sources of information, which he would weigh with other sources of information, but without any suspicion of bias. The work so well begun by the Head of the Treasury would be carried on and extended, and the Secretary to the Treasury would be free to give his whole time to the nation's finances, which surely must be enough in present and future circumstances.

Some of the functions of the Head of the Civil Service, appointments for example, are so important that I should like to support the proposal of my noble friend Lord Addison that he should have the assistance of a small board. I think it should be quite small composed of one or two experienced civil servants and an ex-civil servant with power to co-opt ad hoc others, including, where appropriate, people from outside and the retiring Head of the Department concerned in the case of appointments. The Commonwealth of Australia have such a board, and it is said to work satisfactorily. I do not pretend to know the details, but I am quite sure that Mr. Bruce and his able staff could give the information if it was thought desirable to ask for it. I suggest that that system should be explored in connexion with this question. I also feel myself that it might be rather a good thing in any event to get rid of the title "Head of the Civil Service." If it remains in the Treasury let it be the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, but if it goes elsewhere, as I am inclined to recommend, it should be Chairman of the Public Service Board or some new title, to get rid of this tiresome controversy. I believe the proposals I have made might do something to effect improvements.


Will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him in order to elucidate the matter? Does he suggest that the person who has to exercise the functions covered at present by the title "Head of the Civil Service" should hold a whole-time office, that he should do that and nothing else?


Yes, that is my suggestion. I believe in fact that was the case, or very nearly the case, for a good many years. At any rate I hope that these suggestions may be examined before the question is finally disposed of.


My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Tyrrell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.