Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Competitive Examinations in Civil Service.

asked the Minister for Finance whether he will state the grounds (a) upon which it is proposed to dispense with the competitive examination in the case of the appointments to two posts as Junior Administrative Officer, advertised in the Press on May 27th, 1929; (b) the duties to be discharged by the proposed appointees, and (c) "the knowledge or experience wholly or in part, professional or otherwise peculiar and not ordinarily, to be acquired in the Civil Service" which render it advisable to make the appointments otherwise than by competitive examination.

also asked the Minister for Finance if he is aware that the Civil Service Commissioners announced in a recent advertisement in the daily Press that the next appointment of persons as Junior Administrative Officers in the Civil Service will be made on the report of a specially constituted Board of Selection, and not by competitive examination as heretofore, whether this arrangement is temporary, or whether it is intended to abolish competitive examinations for all higher posts in the Civil Service in future; and further, whether the Minister will state the reasons for this departure.

I shall answer these questions, 6 and 7, together.

The duties of the class for which Junior Administrative Officers are recruited are those concerned with the general administration and control of the Departments of the Public Service, and with questions arising out of the operation of the Acts governing the Department in which they are employed, and the consideration of proposals for further legislation. In their earlier years of service recruits are trained in clerical and executive work, as well as administrative work. When they have had sufficient experience they will be expected to undertake the highest administrative duties necessary in the Civil Service. They are the class from which the Secretaryships of Departments and other higher posts in the service will normally be filled by promotion.

The system of recruitment hitherto adopted for filling the available vacancies in the Junior Administrative class has been that of competitive examination, the results of which depended partly on a written test and partly on personal interview by a board. The examinations announced under this system have not produced the competition expected, and the number of candidates of the required standard coming forward has shown a tendency to decline. The standard of the written examination has been that of a University Honours Degree, and it was hoped that candidates with some post-graduate experience would have been induced to apply, but the results in this respect also have fallen short of anticipations. It is obvious that graduates who have obtained their degrees for some years and have been engaged in other work are at a disadvantage when they have to compete at written examinations with candidates who are fresh from lectures and examinations, and that they are reluctant to do so. The result has been that the field of candidates has been largely limited to students fresh from the Universities, with little experience.

For these reasons, the Civil Service Commissioners, in pursuance of their function to ensure that vacancies in this highest class of the Civil Service will be filled by the best possible material, formed the opinion that a trial should be given to a system of recruitment which, while it requires the same high educational standard as heretofore, at the same time ensures that Honours graduates with valuable post-graduate experience will not be at a disadvantage compared with others who have had no such experience. The Commissioners consider that the Selection Board machinery, with the requirement of an Honours Degree for all candidates from outside the service, will combine with the highest educational standard a wider field of competition. With that object also, the maximum age limit has been extended from 24 to 26. This extension of age is accompanied by an improved entering salary, and it is hoped that it will bring forward candidates with post-graduate experience, legal or otherwise, which could not ordinarily be acquired in the Civil Service, and which it is desirable that successful candidates should possess. The new system, so far as candidates coming from outside the Civil Service are concerned, involves no change as regards educational standard, and the principle of competition remains unaffected. The standard required will, as hitherto, be that of a University Honours degree, and the selection will be competitive.

The new system has been adopted with my consent. It will apply to Cadetships in the Department of External Affairs, and probably to Assistant Inspectorships of Taxes, as well as to the Junior Administrative class. The same system is already in operation for other posts in the Civil Service which are not filled by promotion and require experience not ordinarily to be acquired in the Civil Service. In the case of classes below that of Junior Administrative Officer, no difficulty such as I have referred to arises in securing adequate competition, and it is not proposed, therefore, to substitute the new system for the written examinations at present held for these other classes. The change made in the case of Administrative Officers is in the nature of an experiment, and will be reconsidered, if necessary, in the light of experience.

Does not that really mean a return to the system of patronage?

You merely ask these people for their qualifications, and that they attend to be interviewed by a Board of Examiners or possibly by heads of departments. If that is not going back to the old system of patronage, I do not know what it is.

The Deputy is surely not so ignorant as he pretends.