§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he rose to move for copies of the examination papers, and the answers thereto, by the candidates for the appointment of factory boys, before the Civil Service Commissioners at Portsmouth, in January, 1860. Without some explanation on his part this might seem a very small matter to bring before the attention of the House, but he should show the House that it really involved points of considerable interest and public importance. The way in which the question originated was this. A lad in whom he took some interest had been twice examined for a berth as a factory boy at Portsmouth, and on both occasions, although not placed on the list of candidates sufficiently high to obtain him the situation, he obtained a place very nearly equal to that 893 of the successful candidates. In January last he went up for a third examination, but in the interval between the second and third examinations the conduct of the examination had been transferred from the schoolmasters to the Civil Service Commissioners. On the third occasion, however, he not only was not successful in getting an appointment, but his name was included in a list of those who were stated to be so utterly incompetent as scarcely to entitle them to be placed on the list of failures. This struck him as being a very singular falling off, and he made inquiries into the matter, when he found that the lad's failing was attributed to his bad spelling. He had not only obtained the evidence of the schoolmaster that the boy was actually superior in abilities to several of those who got appointments; and, as it was alleged that he had failed on account of his spelling, he could only say that he had pages of the boy's spelling in his possession, and that he spelt as correctly as any hon. Member of that House. He had therefore come to the conclusion that the boy had not had that justice to which he was entitled, and he had applied to the Civil Service Commissioners, through the Secretary of the Admiralty, to see the work done at the examination by this boy, and by the five boys who had gained appointments. In order to procure clear and comprehensive information, he had also asked for the examination papers used at the general examinations. He made his application, as he had said, to the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty, and in the course of time he received, through Mr. Kempe, an answer from Mr. Maitland, the Secretary of the Civil Service Commissioners. That answer gave the subject a much more serious aspect, and the real and important question was this, whether the Civil Service Commissioners were to be considered from that time forth a totally irresponsible body. That was the real question at issue. Mr. Maitland stated that as the Civil Service Commissioners seemed to be accused of unfairness in the conduct of the examination, they declined to notice the matter in any way whatever. They further expressed the opinion that if their decisions were called into account their services would be no longer useful to the country. Now, he had preferred no charge of unfairness against them; no doubt they had every wish to do that which was just and right towards all the 894 candidates who presented themselves, but they had not the attribute of infallibility. He asked the House whether the tone assumed by them in this communication was such as ought to be assumed by any body of public servants. Were they to say that they would not, under any circumstances, deal with any charge preferred against them? If they were enabled to maintain such a position they would establish a privilege which no other body possessed; yet that was the position claimed by these gentlemen. He could not share such an opinion, and he should be surprised if the House sanctioned it. He had stated, in his reply, to the Civil Service Commissioners, that he preferred no charge of unfairness, but that he demurred to the position laid down by them, and he stated that he knew no instance of servants of the Crown being entitled to such a claim; and, further, that he should take an early opportunity of bringing the question before the House of Commons; and his purpose in moving for these papers was to raise the question of the right of the claim asserted by these gentlemen. It seemed to him a position so monstrous and untenable that he could not think the House of Common would assent to it. He might be told that at the universities there was no appeal against the decision of the examiners; but there was really no affinity between the cases. Then he might be told that there was a Committee sitting up stairs in connection with the proceedings of the Civil Service Commissioners, and that he must wait till that Committee had reported; but he bogged to say that there was nothing in the proceedings of that Committee which affected the question he wished to raise. With the Civil Service Commissioners rested the whole patronage of the country, and was it to be endured that no one, not even the House of Commons, was to impugn their decisions? Supposing an hon. Member were to ask a question of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, the House would be rather astonished to hear the noble Lord reply that as the question implied a charge against him he should not take any notice of it, and still more astonished would the House be if the noble Lord were to add that the utility of the Ministry would be entirely destroyed if he were to answer such charges. Well, then, were the Commissioners to assume a position which not even the head of the Government would take upon himself? Were they to be the only irresponsible body of 895 men in the country? To suppose that they never made mistakes would be absurd, and if the Government supported and the House sanctioned their claim to entire irresponsibility he believed it would cause great surprise and regret throughout the country.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I heard with satisfaction the statement of the hon. Gentleman that he intended nothing offensive to the Civil Service Commissioners in making this application. I quite admit that as he has stated the question, it is one of considerable importance. My own view differs entirely from his, but the importance of the subject I quite allow. As it stands, the question is a simple one, which may be stated without much difficulty and without much detail. As respects the particular person in whom the hon. Member feels an interest, there is no difficulty in explaining whatever he has referred to as being apparently peculiar. The method of proceeding adopted by the Commissioners is that certain elementary acquirements are treated as absolutely indispensable—and unless a fixed and positive standard with regard to those acquirements is reached by the candidate, the Commissioners will not take cognizance of any other acquirements he may have attained. Such a regulation and distinction between what is essential and what is of secondary or less absolute importance is, I believe, both perfectly well founded in the nature of the case, and justified by the practice of otheir institutions. In the case of the young person referred to by the hon. Member there was one particular point in the elementary acquirements regarded as essential in which the candidate proved to be defective, and therefore the Commissioners could not ascertain his efficiency in the other branches to which the examination extended. The hon. Member has said that he has many pages of the boy's spelling in his possession which do not exhibit any deficiencies. It must, however, be obvious that positive evidence is much better than negative, and the appeal from the Commissioners to the hon. Member's judgment involves the whole question. It is not alleged that there has been any breach of faith upon this occasion. All persons applying for public appointments are made aware of the conditions upon which those appointments depend, and they all know that an examination must be submitted to, and that from the 896 decision of the examiner there is no appeal, either to the House as a whole or to individual Members. The hon. Gentleman considered the claim of the Civil Service Commissioners unheard of, because they declined to submit their proceedings in particular cases for review; but, so far from being unheard of, it is a claim that is supported by analogy of the proceedings of every other department, and which is grounded upon the necessities of the case. The hon. Gentleman says if my noble Friend at the head of the Government was to say that he would not take notice of any charge that might be brought against him it would be a monstrous claim, and therefore so much more is it a monstrous claim on the part of the Commissioners. But I draw a broad distinction between acts in the nature of executive acts of an ordinary kind, and those particular cases where an essentially judicial function has to be performed. Every public servant who has others under him may be called upon to do something in the nature of a judicial act, by punishing, suspending, or dismissing those under him; and I never heard of a public officer who had performed acts of this kind who did not lodge a claim for his acts of exemption from review just as in this case. There was a very marked case which occurred some years ago, which bears upon this point. A gentleman, whose name I need not mention—an officer of the Customs' establishment, a landing-waiter—was accused of culpability, or connivance at certain frauds, whereby the public revenue was materially injured. A Royal Commission was appointed, of which I was a member, and over which Lord Granville Somerset presided. We instituted a most laborious investigation into these frauds, and we became perfectly convinced that the landing-waiter who was charged with connivance, and had on that account been dismissed, was entirely innocent. We heard all parties; we made a kind of judicial investigation; we reported to the Crown that this gentleman was innocent; but the Chairman of the Board of Customs declined to accede to our recommendation that the gentleman should be restored to his situation. An hon. Member came down armed with our Report, but failed to induce the House to interfere with or to review the acts of the head of a department, who declared that any such interference would be destructive of discipline and injurious to the public service. The gentleman was afterwards 897 re-appointed—and a most deserving public officer he has proved—but not in consequence of any covenant on the part of the authorities to do so. That is an instance which occurs to me, and if ever there was a case in which it was essential to uphold the independence of public functionaries, I think the case now brought forward is one. The whole weight of personal feeling and political influence is continually working against the Civil Service Commissioners, and unless this House and the Government afford them full support it will be impossible for those gentlemen to exercise satisfactorily the functions that have been assigned to them. I do not complain of the hon. Gentleman for finding fault with the Commissioners, but the question is not whether they are infallible, nor whether they have made in this case an error—as it is possible they may have done—but whether it is absolutely necessary for the proper discharge of their functions that, so long as those functions are discharged with honesty and general intelligence, their acts should be exempt from review. That demand is supported by the universal practice of all examining bodies whose examinations are entitled to any respect. The hon. Gentleman says the Universities are not in point; but, if they are not, the particulars in which they differ from the present case give this case greater strength. The Universities are independent bodies, and their conduct cannot be brought before the House in particular cases; they are free from political influence which presses upon public departments. It is not from any personal feeling towards the Commissioners that I say we ought not to call upon them to submit their proceedings to the House, but because if you do so in one case other demands will arise, and these concessions will make the exercise of their functions useless and delusive, affording no security to the public, but working much mischief, because delusive. It must be borne in mind that the Commissioners have in no way declined the jurisdiction of the House. They do not deny that it is within the power of this House to inquire into the acts of any public officer; but the question is, whether it would be prudent or politic to exercise those powers. I think it would be most imprudent and impolitic, and would defeat the useful labours of the Civil Service Commissioners. No claim can be greater upon the public gratitude than the claims of those gentlemen, but it is not 898 upon that ground that I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press his Motion, or that, if he does, the House will not support him. I oppose the Motion because there are certain prerogatives, belonging essentially to the discharge of the duties of the Commissioners, which it would be against the interests of the country that: we should deprive them of.
§ MR. MONCKTON MILNES
Sir, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to the importance and responsibility attaching to the duties assigned to the Civil Service Commissioners, and it is for that reason that I desire to see the utmost publicity given to their proceedings. Besides, the general question as to the desirability of examinations for the Civil Service, has been by no means quite decided by the public opinion of the country; and I think it will be found that there is a good deal more to be said on the other side of the question. I would say that in a matter which has not been fully determined by public opinion, it is only fair that the public should be fully informed as to all the transactions of this great Commission. If the power intrusted to it is to be exercised in entire secrecy, and not to be subject to the supervision of Parliament, I believe it will degenerate into a very irresponsible power. Certain I am that if publicity is not given to their proceedings, an immense amount of public odium will accumulate upon this Commission; and I think it is only fair and just to the Commissioners that such a Motion as that before the House should be at once acceded to.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, he also was in favour of the Motion, and he trusted that the House would not remain satisfied with the explanations they had just heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for they amounted to but a very lame attempt to dispose of the matter. The question really in issue was, whether the whole patronage of the Crown should or should not be placed in the hands of officers wielding irresponsible power. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had nicknamed the functions of those officers by characterising them as "essentially judicial." He (Lord R. Cecil) had never before heard such an application of the term; but if such proceedings were to be called "essentially judicial," and if the House of Commons were to be debarred from any power of reviewing the decisions of those Civil Ser- 899 vice Commissioners, then he felt no hesitation in saying that they had lost much more than they had gained by the establishment of such a system. And he would remind the House that not more than two years ago a Government was turned out, not wholly, but mainly, because its appointments were considered improper. But, accepting for the moment, that these proceedings ought to be considered "essentially judicial" in their character, had ever anybody heard of essentially judicial proceedings being carried on in England with closed doors? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in alluding to the examinations at the Universities, had called the attention of the House to the fact that the decisions arrived at in Oxford and Cambridge were subject to no review; but the examinations were conducted in public, so that the bearing of the students could be observed, and some opinion be formed as to whether the decisions of the examiners were fair or not, rendering them, therefore, subject to censure. But the decisions arrived at by the Civil Service Commissioners were not only left without review, but the examinations were conducted in private. He, however, demurred entirely to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge being cited in justification of the Civil Service examination system. The degrees they granted had no influence on the fortunes of any one, save those to whom they were given; whereas all the inferior offices of the Crown were recruited from these Civil Service examinations. There was no analogy between the two. It was of the essence of a free country that the disposal of its public offices should be reviewed and criticised and inquired into by the representatives of the people. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of these Commissioners in complimentary terms. He had no doubt they conducted their duties with great ability and impartiality; he had no ground to impugn the one or the other; but it should be borne in mind that impartiality and ability were not always secured by high names and distinguished position, and that this system which we were establishing might last for generations. Without imputing corruption to the Commissioners, which he would be slow to do, he might still, without insulting them, remark on their eccentricities and crotchets. For instance, they might have peculiar views about education and other matters coming within their province, and they might 900 thrust these peculiar crotchets forward to the detriment of the public service and to the injury of the youths they had to examine and the system they were called upon to administer. He would even go further, and, discarding his allusions to hypothesis, call the attention of the House to the Report last issued by these Commissioners, and especially to the details of the examinations for Indian appointments. In those examinations the Commissioners had been allowed to exercise their most extensive and unfettered powers, and in the results arrived at the House would find materials to fully justify the terms he had used—"eccentricities and crotchets" It would naturally be supposed that in granting Civil Service appointments some attention would be paid to the qualifications of the individual to perform the duties of the position. It was impossible to examine a man in the art of leading an army, or of governing a province; but he could be examined as to his knowledge of Sanscrit and Arabic, and in respect to these Indian examinations, upon his knowledge of those and their kindred languages would depend very much his efficiency in wielding the power with which he desired to be entrusted. It was, therefore, a rational conclusion that the Commissioners would encourage those who possessed these special qualifications for Government in India. But what was the fact? It would be found that men possessing high marks in Arabic and Sanscrit were rejected, whilst men who had no marks at all for proficiency in those languages, but whose knowledge of Latin and Greek, or other languages equally foreign to the duties of the position, had been found good, were chosen. With such facts as these before them, they were not to suppose these Commissioners were, as a matter of course, immaculate; and unless some check, such as that adopted with respect to every other paid servant of the Crown, were established, it would not be surprising if the duty were improperly performed. He agreed that the system was at present on its trial, but it would be found that its direct tendency was to turn all the offices of the Crown into a set of exhibitions for the schoolboys of the country. In no other undertaking was this system adopted; every private firm would look upon it with distrust. There was nothing that commended itself to common sense in the idea that a mere successful book-worm was, as a matter of course, more capable than his unsuccessful com- 901 petitor of leading an army or ruling a province. The merits of the candidate should be tested by a more careful and ample experience and to obtain that experience they should jealously watch the progress of the present system, and more jealously than otherwise because the system was new, untried, and would most probably fail.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
There are two questions brought under our consideration, and before this House comes to a vote, it is expedient to distinguish between them. One is the expediency of the system of examination; the other is the propriety of making the examination papers public. I remember very well the issue of the Order in Council under which this system was created, and I cannot admit that there was any want of consideration in regard to the framing of that Order, while up to this time it has not been found necessary to make any alterations in the regulations there laid down. Since that time the Commissioners have made annual reports, and the working of the system has been copiously brought under the notice of Parliament, so that there has been ample opportunity of interfering, if interference had been thought necessary. I therefore assume that the general feeling of Parliament and the country is in favour of the maintenance of the system. I do not, therefore, think it necessary to review the ground which the noble Lord has travelled over when he appeared to question the expediency of the general system. The point raised by the Motion, and which we have to decide is, whether it is expedient that any hon. Member of this House should be entitled to call for papers written by candidates at the examinations. I affirm that, if the system is a good one and ought to be supported, it is absolutely necessary that the confidence of the various candidates should be maintained. We have the example of the examinations at the Universities and public schools to go by. The noble Lord, who is so well acquainted with the system of examination at Oxford, said there was publicity given to the examinations at that University. [Lord R. CECIL: At the vivâ voce examinations.] But these are not vivâ voce examinations. The rule both at Oxford and Cambridge is that the examination papers written by the candidates both for degrees and studentships, are considered confidential, and that were even the head of a college or any one in authority to complain of the discretion of the examiners, the latter would neverthe- 902 less refuse to show the papers. Suppose you were to allow an appeal from the decision of the examining masters by bringing the papers before House of Commons, the effect would be that you would have to bring up the papers not only of the unsuccessful but of the successful candidates. What would be the result? Some Gentlemen might think that a person placed by the examiners six or seven, ought to be four or five; but is a Bill to be brought in reversing the decision of the examiners? Such a mode of conducting the business of the examinations would be absurd and impracticable. The only means of attaining the object of the hon. Gentleman would be to declare that, in the event of a candidate being dissatisfied with the result of an examination, there should be an appeal to some superior board of examiners. But would such a system as that answer? The rule is, that where there is no competition, the original appointment is in one sense absolute. The person is usually sent to the Civil Service examiners in order that they may ascertain whether or not he comes up to a certain standard. If he comes up to the standard, his appointment proceeds; if he does not come up to the standard, another is appointed. In the case of competition, the duty of the examiners is to say which is the best of the candidates, but in no case is the original appointment dependent upon the will of the examiners. It is therefore erroneous to say that the patronage of the Crown is in any sense transferred to the examiners. But what would be the result of the appointment of a superior board of appeal? The result would be simply this, that in any case where candidates were rejected for not coming up to the standard, or rejected in cases of competition, they would appeal and take the chance of a second examination. You would then have the process repeated a second time, before another board not more competent to decide than the first, and you would multiply the trouble and inconvenience without any good result. The necessity of the case seems, therefore, to be that if you are to have these examinations at all you must allow the decision without appeal, to rest with the persons appointed by the Executive Government. If it can be shown that they are not worthy of the confidence of the Government or this House, that they act with unfairness, or are incompetent from literary or other disqualifications, then let the House interfere by an Address 903 to the Crown, to remove them from their offices; but it is impossible to work the system on any other principle than that of placing confidence in the examiners and not violating the secrecy of the examination papers. Therefore any Motion calling for such papers ought not to be assented to.
§ MR. G. W. HOPE
said, he had understood the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that the rule adopted by the examining Commissioners was to take a certain standard, and to put aside all considerations of special fitness beyond that. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Accomplishments, not fitness.] That word would answer his purpose as well as the other. What he wished to say was, that the tendency of such a system as that described by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that if the candidates did not come up to the elementary standard they were put aside altogether and others chosen in their place—would be to make the affair rather a mere schoolboy's examination than the examination of persons capable of performing duties to the public. Spelling, he admitted, was an elementary principle of education, and perhaps, in the absence of any other there was not a better test of whether a man was an educated man or not than that of spelling. But it should not be forgotten that many an eminent man had gone down to his grave deserving well of his country for the services he had performed, but whose ability to spell was in fact nil. Discussing once with Sir George Grey, the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, the merits of a public servant, Sir George said—I never knew a more valuable or efficient public officer, for he was able to speak well, write well, and compose well—his reports being truly admirable; but he would never have been able to enter the civil service under the present system, for to the end of his days he could not spell well.Without alluding to names, he would give another instance. There was an individual who excelled all others in history, mathematics, and composition; not only so, but he was known among his fellows to be the ablest and most efficient candidate for the office; yet that man had been rejected in a competition because he had made a mistake in the spelling of a single word. He would not deny that if resort could be had to no other test the test of spelling might be taken; but he maintained that such elementary parts of education ought not to be taken as conclusive while it was 904 possible to test the abilities and education of candidates in some other way. He could not agree either with the statements that had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to what was understood to be the prevailing practice in the various departments of the Government with respect to the removal and reinstatement of public officers. And he was of opinion that in the case of the individual to whom the right hon. Gentleman had more particularly alluded, that it would have been simple justice to reinstate the man who had been improperly displaced. Indeed, so far from the doctrine laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer having obtained, while he (Mr. Hope) was in the Colonial Office, one of the most difficult and disagreeable portions of their duty was the discussing and determining questions with respect to the removal of public officers. He did not deny that for the efficiency of the public service it would, in many respects, be much better that there should be a power of absolute dismissal; for there were many cases in which a man was inefficient, but in which no fault could be alleged sufficient to justify his discharge. It was, in fact, one of the advantages which private mercantile firms possessed over the Government, that when they had a clerk that did not suit them they could send him away without assigning any reason. Nevertheless, he held that no such custom could be introduced into the Government offices; they must in each case require a justification for the dismissal of a public servant. He did not wish to say a word in disparagement of the Commissioners in the present case, of whose very names he was ignorant, but it could not be contended that they were not liable to errors. Only the other day it transpired that the examiners for military commissions had been deceived by a gross system of fraud. Suppose that had been the case of a competitive examination. If grounds should exist for supposing that improper practices prevailed, were not parties who were aggrieved to be entitled to appeal to the Government, and demand an investigation? Moreover, he could give an example where an appeal had been actually allowed. The military examinations were not only directed to proficiency and scholarship, but also to physical qualifications. A candidate was recently rejected on the ground either of deficiency of eyesight or hearing. The young man's father dissented from the decision. He took the 905 opinion of physicians, which established the lad's fitness, the military examiner gave way, and the boy was received. That was, fortunately, an appeal of a nature which it was possible to substantiate; but the same right ought to be recognized more generally, and he for one could not admit the principle of irresponsibility on the part of the Commissioners which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed desirous to establish.
§ MR. LOWE
In order that the House may not be led away from the question at issue, I wish to restate what is the precise claim put forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That claim is simply that in the absence of any imputation of fraud, misconduct, and suspicion, the Government shall not be compelled by the friends of candidates who may consider themselves aggrieved, in the House of Commons to publish the answers to the questions that have been proposed. And what docs a man contract for with the Government who submits himself to examination? He submits on his part to abide by the result of that examination, and the Government, on their part, undertake that if the examiners place him in a certain position he shall receive a certain place. The Government, also, do not undertake that the Commissioners shall be infallible. They undertake that the Commissioners shall do their duty honestly and fairly, and if they do that the contract is fulfilled, and it would he the height of injustice to the other candidates to reverse the decision of the Commissioners, even if they should have been guilty of some errors. If these examinations are to be re-opened, the candidate who is fortunate enough to have a friend in a Member of Parliament will always he able to obtain a reversal and review of the examination; but the poor man who has no such friend must submit to the result of the examination, although the Commissioners are quite as liable to error in the one case as the other What remedy can there be in publicity in such a case? This House does not meet to entertain scholastic questions, but to manage the business of the nation, and I trust the time will never come when it finds us engaged in considering examination papers involving questions of spelling and grammar. What would be the result if the House got possession of these papers? What would they do with them? Would they reverse the decision of the examiners? In the department with which 906 I am connected it has always been the practice to refuse these examination papers, on the ground that the person submits to this examination as he would submit to an award in a case of arbitration. The noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) has complained that in the East Indian examination candidates are not examined into those matters which would show their special aptitude for the Indian service.
§ LORD R. CECIL
I said they were examined in special knowledge, but that those who were proficient in Sanscrit and Arabic were rejected, while those who knew nothing about them were selected.
§ MR. LOWE
The noble Lord is mistaken in what he said on this point. The subject of education for the Indian service was referred to a Commission of which Lord Macaulay was a Member. That Commission reported that they wished the Indian examination to be open to all the well educated young men in the country. They, therefore, made a list of all the subjects in which young men are usually educated, and assigned to each a number of marks which they believed would represent the relative difficulty of each subject. They did put Arabic and Sanscrit in that list, but not on the ground of the aptitude which a knowledge of those languages would give a person for the Indian service, but simply and solely because they were studies upon which young men of liberal education might in some cases have entered, and for which they might be, therefore, entitled to receive marks. But the Commissioners drew up their list expressly to exclude those who had turned their attention to the Indian service, in order that the service might be open to all the young men in the country, and that those should not be excluded who had not thought it necessary to devote a certain portion of their time to particular studies. I had something to do with that Report, and, for my own part, I only regretted that Arabic and Sanscrit were included at all, because the admission of those languages into the list tended to create the very error into which the noble Lord had fallen. As the House would not know what to do with these papers if it got them, and as debates on this subject would take up the time of the House without any useful result, I trust that the House will refuse to agree to a Motion which would destroy the independence of the examiners, and put an end to the confidence which the country now places in their decisions.
§ MR. BENTINCK
replied. The Chan- 907 cellor of the Exchequer had referred to a case which occurred in the Customs some time ago. But in that case, in consequence of the Report of the Committee, the man was re-appointed, while in the case he now brought forward there were no means of obtaining justice if these papers were refused.
Motion made and Question put,
That there be laid before this House, Copies of the Examination Papers, and the Answers thereto, by the Candidates for the appointments of Factory Boys, before the Civil Service Commissioners at Portsmouth, in January 1860.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 50; Noes 80: Majority 30.