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Case Of Mr Mason—Resolution

Volume 203: debated on Friday 22 July 1870

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said, he rose to call attention to the case of Mr. Mason, a candidate in the last competitive examination for employment in the Civil Service of India, and to move a Resolulution thereon. The whole case rested upon the question whether a young man who was 16 years of age in 1864 was not more than 19 in 1870. The main proposition which he had to place before the House was that he must be. Mr. Mason, from whom he presented a Petition a few days ago, was the son of a bookseller; he was the first of the unsuccessful candidates, or, in cricketing language, what was called "the twelfth man." The gentleman before him was Mr. Borooah, and the case now put forward by Mr. Mason was that Mr. Borooah was disqualified by age. He had taken the trouble to go to the India Office, and he had examined The Calcutta Gazette and The Calcutta University Calendar, and he found that The Calcutta University Calendar for 1865 gave the name of Mr. Borooah as that of a gentleman who had taken the preliminary degree in the Calcutta University in the month of December, 1864, and The Calcutta Gazette stated that no one under the age of 16 could be admitted to that degree. One of the conditions of admission to the last examination for Civil Service appointments in India was the production of a certificate to show on the 1st of February, 1870, the candidate was above 17 and under 21 years of age. In the paper giving the result of that examination Mr. Borooah was stated to be 19 years of age. He had heard of a lady who, when interrogated as to her age, said—"Oh, no age in particular; the same age as anybody else." It was said of one eminent personage that—

"Panting Time toiled after him in vain;"
but Mr. Borooah seemed to be sometimes before Time and sometimes after him. The father of Mr. Mason, seeing the prize thus ship from his son's hands, felt himself aggrieved, and addressed himself to the Civil Service Commissioners; and he was told, in reply, that the matter had been duly considered, and that, as the result, Mr. Borooah appeared on the list as the successful candidate. Members of that House might differ on the subject of the Irish Land Bill, or on that of Elementary Education; but he thought that all of them, of whatever party, must agree that, if Mr. Borooah was 16 in 1864, he must be more than 19 in 1870. There was no medium in competition; it must be perfectly fair, or it became a failure altogether. He was aware that the India Office could not interfere with the Civil Service Commissioners; but one man was as good as another in deciding upon the age of a candidate under such circumstances, and he thought that he was justified in placing the terms of his Resolution before the House.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Civil Service Commissioners be instructed to produce the evidence in opposition to that aforded by entries in the Calcutta Gazette and Calcutta University Calendar, on which they considered Mr. Borooah (who was a successful candidate on the occasion of the last competitive examination for employment in the Civil Service of India, to the exclusion of Mr. Mason), duly qualified according to the existing regulations as to age, to become a candidate,"—(Mr. Scourfield,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

said, that the Civil Service Commissioners had no representative in that House. If they had, he presumed that representative would begin his speech by telling a story of a remarkable man who was said once to have addressed a young barrister in these words—"Avoid a logical fallacy as you would poison. The facts remain at your disposition." The fact which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Scourfield) had not mentioned to the House—only, he was sure, because he did not know it—was that there was the greatest doubt as to what was meant by a native of India saying that he was 16. Strange as it appeared, they had the most conflicting evidence as to this most simple matter, some of the natives understanding the proposition as was the case in this country, while others thought it meant that he had entered on his 16th year; and he had no doubt the Civil Service Commissioners had had the same before them. However, as he had said, his business was not to answer for them; he answered for the India Office, which was only collaterally interested, and, answering for the India Office, he regretted to say that he had little to add to what he said on that subject some days ago in reply to a Question which the hon. Gentleman put to him. The Civil Service Commissioners were not under the jurisdiction of the India Office. It was the India Office which, so far as the Indian examinations were concerned, were under their jurisdiction. Both this year and last very difficult cases had arisen with regard to the age of natives of India, and the Civil Service Commissioners, after taking the greatest possible trouble, had decided those cases in favour of the eligibility as candidates of the young Indians about whose age there was a doubt; and this, it was to be observed, they had done contrary to their first opinions upon the points raised. He was very glad that it had happened that they had decided that Mr. Borooah was eligible, for he was a young man of great merit, who, born in a very remote part of India, high up the Bramahputra, had distinguished himself at the University of Calcutta, had won a Government Scholarship, and had come over to this country to complete his education. He had no doubt he would make an excellent public servant. The fact which he mentioned the other day, that the Civil Service Commissioners had proposed to ask for certificates of age, signed by the proper local authorities in India, with respect to the age of the young men coming home to compete for our Civil Service and to accept them as final, showed that they had no desire to settle the troublesome and knotty questions which arose about the ages of natives of India, and the India Office, as in duty bound, would help them as much as it could, imitating therein the vast majority of Members of the House of Commons; for it was most remarkable and most creditable, considering what pressure was constantly brought to bear upon Members to get them to interfere in that House on behalf of disappointed candidates, that so few had thought fit to earn the gratitude of friends or constituents by attacking men who were raised by their position out of and above politics, and who could only discharge their duties efficiently if they were supported in their neutral and judicial position by all influential and responsible persons. He need hardly say he had no power to assent to the production of the Papers for which the hon. Member asked, many of which were of a confidential character. If the Civil Service Commissioners were required to give up Papers of this kind, they might as well abdicate the functions which they discharged so much to the satisfaction of the House and the public.

said, he thought it would have been more satisfactory if the hon. Gentleman who spoke last had told them on what evidence the Civil Service Commissioners had decided. The hon. Gentleman had claimed for those Commissioners something like infallibility, and spoken as if neither that House nor any other tribunal was to exercise control over them. The Mover of the Resolution had made out a primâ facie case, and given substantial evidence of the age of that young man. The Civil Service Commissioners had ignored that evidence, and the House had not been told the ground on which they had ignored it.

said, that the method adopted by the Chinese in calculating the age of a child had reference to the date of the accession of the reigning Sovereign. For example, if a child were born on the 31st of December, and that day happened to be the day of the accession of the Sovereign to the throne, the child would be considered one year old on the following day, the 1st January. The practice in India in that matter might very well be equally different from ours. He also thought that if the decisions of the Civil Service Commissioners were to be contested in that House the Commission would be worth nothing.

said, that nobody questioned the decision of those Commissioners in respect to the result of their examination; but this was a question of fact, and the Commissioners could not, any more than other people, make a youth 16 or any other age if he really was not so. It was immaterial what the habits of the Chinese or the Hindoos were in reckoning ago. What had to be considered was the rides and regulations prescribed in this country in respect to the candidates at those examinations. Whether the Civil Service Commissioners were really in the irresponsible position described by the Under Secretary for India he did not know; but he should have thought they were under the control of the Government of the day, or the Treasury, like analogous bodies. The bringing forward of that case was, in his opinion, perfectly justifiable.

held that there was more in that question than the case of a mere individual. The Civil Service of India was now regarded by many young men in England, Scotland, and Ireland as a profession, and when the friends of those young men incurred a large expense in educating and qualifying them for that service, they ought to know that the rules and conditions of the examination were of an inflexible character. If errors were made and the Civil Service Commissioners were asked to correct them, the House ought not to be told that there was not a Department of the Government which could give any information on the subject. This case was not that of an individual, for the faith of all the young men in the country would be rudely shaken if no inquiry was to be made about the operations of the Civil Service Commissioners.

said, the question raised by his hon. Friend was one of very great importance, because it affected that system of competition which the Government proposed to extend. The issues were, whether an unsuccessful candidate should be allowed, after a competition was over, to go into questions relating to the qualifications of those with whom he had competed; whether the Civil Service Commissioners ought to be requested to give information about the facts on which they decided as to a candidate, and whether the House ought to assume the functions of an appellate tribunal from the decision of the Commissioners. The House, he contended, ought not to listen to the complaints of unsuccessful candidates, for although a case of hardship might occasionally happen, owing to a mistake having been made, yet he could not imagine that hon. Members could attend to it or do the justice which the case might require. There would be much less evil if they shut their ears to all complaints than if they allowed an appeal in any case; for as Civil Service appointments were very much sought after and great disappointment was frequently felt, if the House entertained such appeals, the number of cases coming before it would be very great, and he contended that it was not property constituted for dealing with them. It was important that the decision of the Civil Service Commissioners should be final in all cases, and it would be better for the interests of all concerned that they should be so. He happened to know that they took great pains with their decision in the case before the House; they took the opinion of counsel upon the facts, and by that opinion they were wholly guided. It was quite conceivable that they might commit errors, but it would be much better that those errors should remain unredressed than that the House should reopen the cases. One of the Commissioners was Sir Edward Ryan, who had been for many years Chi of Justice of a Court in India, and was therefore most competent to decide in all such cases. One point for the consideration of the House was that the Commissioners had to consider other qualifications besides age—they had to inquire into the moral conduct and health of the candidates, and in the course of their inquiries they received a number of confidential communications which could not possibly be made public; and to insist that the evidence on which they acted should be given to the House would materially cripple them in the discharge of their duties. He, therefore, without pretending to go into the merits of the case, submitted that the wisest course the House could adopt was to lay down a rule that unless some charge amounting to misconduct on the part of the Commissioners was brought before them, they would not review these matters, and to resolve that it would be better for injustice to be done and errors committed than that uncertainty should be allowed to prevail; for nothing could be more injurious to the system of competition than that those who had accepted the terms should have a power of appeal. He, therefore, submitted to his hon. Friend (Mr. Scourfield) that it would be better for a hardship to be done in this case than that the House should assume a jurisdiction which it was not capable of exorcising.

said, he had rarely heard a doctrine so objectionable as that just laid down by his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). He dissented in toto from such a doctrine. He saw no reason, if an injustice were known to have been done, that some attempt should not be made by the House to remedy it. The Civil Service Commissioners were not so exceedingly free from giving causes of complaint as the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for India seemed to think. He had had occasion to transmit complaints from a number of gentlemen who had come all the way from India, at a heavy expense, and at the sacrifice of the employment which they had been obliged to give up, to attend an examination which they were informed was to take place in July. On their arrival, however, in this country they were told that that examination had been postponed to another part of the year. If the errors of the Civil Service Commissioners were to be passed over, then the object of getting the highest class of native talent by means of competition would be defeated.

said, he believed that confidence in the fairness of these examinations would be destroyed if it was found that when an error had been committed the Civil Service Commissioners could refuse to give any explanation. The doctrine of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was most dangerous, and would increase the dissatisfaction which now existed.

said, he thought that an incorrect construction had been placed upon the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who sought to show the House that this was not one of the questions on which hon. Members could exercise immediate and authoritative control. As a general rule, such control could not be exercised too sharply or strictly over the Executive Government; but this was a case in which the House ought to modify its views, because the functions of the Civil Service Commissioners were judicial, and those gentlemen would be unfit to hold their office unless they discharged every detail of their duties in a judicial spirit. If the Commissioners were capable of anything like unfairness, they ought to be dismissed and others substituted for them. Another important consideration was that if facility were afforded for the discussion of individual cases, there would always be found hon. Members who, from honourable motives of friendship or commiseration, would be ready to call attention to them under circumstances in which the Commissioners could not be heard. If the Inland Revenue Department or the Customs Department was arraigned before the House upon a questioned exercise of discretion, the authorities of the Treasury would meet the accusation. The Civil Service Commissioners were differently situated, and they could not publish the particulars in every case which might be brought under review; while if the particulars could be furnished, they would be submitted to a tribunal which felt itself to be incompetent to institute a strict and a sufficient investigation. It might be desirable that there should be control over the Civil Service Commissioners; but it would be dangerous if it were to consist in nothing else than the effect of a Motion made in this House. The Civil Service Commissioners were in no way responsible for bringing gentlemen over from India to no purpose; if there had been any error, it was apparently that of the authorities in India who issued the advertisement; and, at any rate, the judgment of the Commissioners gave no support to the supposition that there was any indifference to the interests of the natives of India, whom, on the contrary, it seemed to favour. So far from having, as was assumed, acted with carelessness, they had acted, with the utmost pains, and they had fortified themselves with a legal opinion—that of the hon. Member for the Denbigh Boroughs (Mr. Watkin Williams). He did not deny the title of the House to interfere, it might be its duty to do so in certain cases; but there was nothing to show that this was such a case; and if it were proved to be necessary that there should be a means of reviewing the proceedings of the Commissioners, this was not the proper time to determine in what way it should be done. The Government had lately endeavoured, with the approval and under the pressure of the House, to carry out a great reform, and to get rid of the exercise of patronage in regard to first appointments under the Government. The Commissioners were the body upon whose integrity and efficiency the working of the reform depended; and if they were to be arraigned it was impossible they could exercise the authority necessary to enable them to stand against the pressure of private interests. He hoped his hon. Friend would not be disposed to force the House to a judgment upon the general question upon a Motion such as this.

said, he believed the proceedings of the Civil Service Commissioners gave general satisfaction in the country, and he thought they ought not to be called upon to give any additional evidence in support of a decision, unless a much graver case than the present were adduced.

said, he wished to remark that the dates in the official Paper were irreconcilable on the supposition that the 15th and the 16th years might be confounded. After what had been said on the part of the Government, he thought it unnecessary to occupy time by dividing the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.