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WE, Your Majesty's Civil Service Commissioners, humbly offer to Your Majesty our Sixth Annual Report.
Our Fifth and last Annual Report was made in February of last year, after it had been decided that an inquiry should take place by a Select Committee of the House of Commons "into the present mode of nominating and examining candidates for junior appointments in the Civil Service, with a view to ascertaining "whether greater facility may not be afforded for the admission "of properly qualified persons."
Under these circumstances we did not think it either advisable or even decorous to state our views upon the principal points which were likely to come under the consideration of that Committee, and we accordingly limited ourselves almost entirely to details of a statistical character.
Since that period, and towards the close of the last Session of Parliament, the Select Committee completed its labours, and reported to the House of Commons the opinions they had formed and the recommendations they offered.
We naturally regarded with much interest the proceedings of this Committee. We had hitherto been ourselves the narrators, and practically the reviewers, of our own proceedings. Although, as we have on several occasions observed, sincerely desirous of impartial criticism and of suggestions for the removal of defects, either of principle or detail, which might be found to exist in the system we had endeavoured to establish, we had as yet received but little assistance of that character; and we anticipated that the appointment of the Committee would call forth all those who might wish to prefer complaints or objections against the system itself, or the manner of its administration. We perceive but little, however, in the way of complaint or objection, in the testimony of the witnesses. We are, nevertheless, sensible of the value of the evidence of the principal officers in the several departments of the Government as to the results of the system, and we are fully aware of the importance of the recommendations offered by the Committee.
As these recommendations have led to some important modifications of our arrangements, we think it best at once to address ourselves to them, and for the sake of convenience we will in the first place recapitulate them.
After adverting to the defect in the working of the present system of limited competition in respect of many of the candi
dates sent up to compete not being qualified to reach the minimum standard of proficiency necessary for admission to the Civil Service, the Committee recommend as follows:
"Either no person inust be allowed to compete who shall not, at some time previously, have passed a test examination before the Commissioners with a view of entitling him to enter the list, or else when the competition for a vacancy is about to begin, the candidates must be subjected to a preliminary pass examination; any candidate failing in which shall be excluded from the right of competing for that vacancy, and his place be supplied by another. Which of these two modes of effecting the object in view until an entirely open system of competition shall be established will cause the least inconvenience to examiners and candidates is a question which your Committee think may be left to the discretion of the Civil Service Commissioners and of the executive; probably it will be found most convenient to combine the two, allowing any person who has reason to expect a nomination to compete to present himself for the previous test examination, the cost of which may be defrayed by a small fee; and requiring any candidate who has not previously passed through this ordeal to submit to it immediately before competing. Your Committee regard it as indispensable that by this or some similar method no competition should be allowed to take place, except between those who are educationally qualified to receive a certificate from the Commissioners. On the strict maintenance of this rule it depends whether the competitive trials, conducted before the Commissioners, shall be real or illusory.
"The further question remains whether it is expedient that competition for the higher branches of the Civil Service should be entirely open or limited to persons nominated by the Government of the day. Your Committee agree with the Commissioners that the evidence hitherto laid before Parliament, scanty and imperfect as it necessarily is, makes strongly in favour of open competition, nor can they fail to notice the gradual extension of that system to other branches of the national service. Already the Civil Service of India, the Medical Service and Public Works Department in India, and the scientific branches of the military profession, both in regard of the Imperial and of the Indian army, have been thrown open to all competitors; nor does there appear, either in Parliament or among the people, any disposition to regret or to draw back from the large concessions thus made to public opinion at the expense of private patronage.
"But your Committee, for the very reason that leads them to desire the ultimate success of the competitive method, are anxious to avoid such precipitancy in its adoption as might possibly lead to a temporary reaction of public feeling. They do not conceal from themselves that, in proportion as the practice of simple nomination is departed from, private interests are disturbed, the prescriptive custom of political patronage is broken in upon, and many persons exercising local influence find themselves no longer able to obtain for relatives and dependants that ready admission into public offices which was formerly within their reach. If to these causes of natural jealousy be added the prevailing and not unreasonable distrust of large administrative changes, proceeding on a principle which until of late years has received no general recognition, it is evident that much deliberation and prudence are necessary before proceeding to carry out to its full extent the system recommended by the Commissioners of 1853.
"They think that an important step in advance will have been taken if for the system now generally prevailing, of simple nomination, there
be substituted one of limited, but of real, competition; and they recommend, accordingly, that from henceforth every vacancy occurring among clerks in the Civil Service be competed for by not less than three candidates, to be nominated as at present, each of whom, in the first instance, shall have passed the preliminary test examination, except in the case of a single vacancy, which shall not be competed for by less, than five.
"It appears expedient that whenever the convenience of the public service allows, several vacancies shall be competed for at once. It is obvious that a competition between 30 candidates for 10 vacancies is more likely to result in the appointment of young men of talent and industry than if each place were competed for by three candidates separately.
"Your Committee think it desirable that in all cases the necessary moral and medical qualifications of each candidate should be ascertained, previously to his being submitted to the required educational test.
"Your Committee, while declaring their opinion that the best mode of procuring competent persons to fill the junior clerkships in the Civil Service would be through a system of competitive examination open to all subjects of the Queen,' who fulfil certain definite conditions as to age, health, and character, are not prepared to advise the immediate adoption of a plan for giving effect to those views." *
"With regard to the higher branches of the service, your Committee have no immediate change to recommend in the system now in force, beyond these two-to substitute universally, instead of occasionally, a limited competition among at least five, for simple nomination of one, and to confine this competition to those who have passed the previous test of fitness.
"In reference to the lower grades, from tidewaiterships downwards, your Committee cannot advise the general introduction of intellectual competition, which they regard as unsuited for officers whose principal duties are mechanical. They think that the health and moral character of applicants for such appointments should be strictly investigated, and that they should continue as at present to be subject to a simple educational test, which should have reference, so far as may be, to the future duties of the candidates for employment.
"Your Committee, though not prepared to advise the immediate introduction into the whole Civil Service of entirely open competitions, would, nevertheless, recommend that the experiment first tried at the India House in 1859 be repeated from time to time in other departments. An opportunity will thus be provided by which a further comparison between the limited and unlimited systems may be instituted, with a view to that ultimate extension of the area of competition to which your Committee look forward as the legitimate result of the changes now recommended."
Although these suggestions, for the most part, coincided with our own opinions, we did not feel it to be within our province, or indeed within our power, to originate any measures for giving practical effect to them. But on the 7th March last we received from Her Majesty's Government a letter intimating their intention to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee for the establishment of a preliminary test examination, and inviting our observations on the subject; we accordingly addressed the following letter to the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's
Treasury, which we insert here, as expressing our views on this branch of the subject.
The Civil Service Commissioners to the Lords Commissioners of Her
18th March 1861.
"WE have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of Mr. Brand's letter of the 7th instant, acquainting us that your Lordships have had under consideration the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons of 1860, on Civil Service appointments, and that, proposing to give effect to the recommendation of the Committee, that a preliminary test examination be required of candidates nominated to compete for clerkships in the civil service, you will be glad to receive from us any observations or suggestions which we may wish to make as to the manner in which the recommendation should be carried out.
"In availing ourselves of the opportunity offered to us, we shall endeavour to confine ourselves strictly within the limits of your Lordships' reference, and, in order that any misapprehension on our part with regard to the nature and extent of the Committee's recommendations may be corrected by your Lordships, we will briefly state what we conceive to be the purport of the Report so far as relates to the question now under consideration.
"Before entering upon the mode in which these recommendations may be best carried into effect, we must remark that, although the system of limited competition has been introduced in the appointment of clerks in various public offices, and in some of the most important of them, yet there are still many other public offices to which it has not yet been applied.
"In illustration of this remark we have placed in the note below a list of the public offices, indicating the difference of their practice in this respect, and we conceive that we have thus discharged sufficiently our duty in this particular point, and that it would be beyond our province to suggest when, and in what manner, and by what means the system of limited competition for clerkships should be extended, so as to embrace the clerkships in all public offices.
"In addressing ourselves to the discussion of the means of giving effect to the recommendations of the Committee, we conceive that it may be convenient to treat the clerkships in the public service as consisting of two classes; one comprising those to which the Treasury authorities appoint, such as the clerkships in the Inland Revenue, Customs, &c., the other comprising those to which appointments are made by the chief authorities of the offices respectively, as the clerkships in the Admiralty, War Office, Colonial Office, Foreign Office, &c.
"With regard to the first of these classes, we may perhaps take for granted that the recommendation of the Committee, that where the convenience of the public service allows, several vacancies should be competed for at once, agreeing, as it does, with the present practice of your Lordships, will, for the future, be followed.
"This being assumed, the first question which appears to require consideration is, at what time the preliminary test examination, regarded by the Committee as essential, should be passed. Two plans
The omitted passage merely contains the purport of that part of the Report which is inserted in extenso on pp. i. and ii.
are suggested by the Committee, who at the same time observe that a combination of the two will probably be found most convenient. The first of the two plans is, the gradual formation of a list which should contain the names of those candidates who having passed the test examination would afterwards be eligible as competitors; .and the second, the nomination of candidates who would be required to undergo the test examination immediately before competing.
"It may be objected to the latter plan that if upon each occasion of a competitive examination, it was to be immediately preceded by a preliminary test examination, for the purpose of providing the requisite number of effective candidates for that particular competitive examination, it would be necessary to nominate for the preliminary test examination a much larger number of candidates than in proportion of three to a vacancy; for experience has shown that a great many candidates do not pass the test, and if it were to happen that a sufficient number of effective candidates failed to pass, further nominations and further test examinations would have to be resorted to, before the competitive examination for filling up the vacant clerkships could be held, and much delay and inconvenience would thus be occasioned.
"On the other hand it may be thought that the formation of a list is open to objections of a different kind. It is possible that candidates placed on the list might be led to conceive that they had acquired a sort of inchoate right to be nominated as candidates in some competitive examination, and, in the event of a change of ministry, candidates thus circumstanced might be subjected to disappointment, or their claims might embarrass the successors of those who originally nominated them. These objections, however, may be lessened or probably altogether removed by its being made distinctly understood by those who are sent to the Civil Service Commissioners' Office to go through the preliminary test examination, that it is to give them no right or claim whatsoever; except that, if they are thereafter nominated as competitors, they will be considered as effective competitors, and be permitted to compete.
"To prevent the possibility of misconstruction of our views, it may be right that we should take this opportunity of stating that in making. these suggestions we do not contemplate the preliminary test examination being thrown open to any one presenting himself (as in the Indian Civil Service examinations) but only to persons nominated by the same authorities in whom the duty of appointing to clerkships is vested.
"The advantages or disadvantages of the two plans being considered it is matter of satisfaction to us that the Committee have recommended a combination of the two; but it is hardly necessary for us to say that we shall be most willing to aid your Lordships in carrying out one or the other exclusively, if considered for any reason more likely to work satisfactorily.
"Looking next at the subjects of examination which according to the regulations now in force are prescribed for candidates for clerkships in the Inland Revenue, Customs, Audit Office, &c., it will be perceived that they all include,
Arithmetic, up to and inclusive of vulgar and decimal
"In addition to these there are, generally speaking, history and