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wrong, to separate prejudice from reason, and to be very sure, in attempting the redress of a grievance, that we hit upon its real seat and its true nature. Where there is an abuse in office, the first thing that occurs in heat is to censure the officer. Our natural disposition leads all our inquiries rather to persons than to things. But this prejudice is to be corrected by maturer thinking.
Sir, the profits of the pay office (as an office) are not too great, in my opinion, for its duties, and for the rank of the person who has generally held it. He has been generally a person of the highest rank,that is to say, a person of eminence and consideration in this House. The great and the invidious profits of the pay office are from the bank that is held in it. According to the present course of the office, and according to the present mode of accounting there, this bank must necessarily exist somewhere. Money is a productive thing; and when the usual time of its demand can be tolerably calculated, it may with prudence be safely laid out to the profit of the hold
It is on this calculation that the business of banking proceeds. But no profit can be derived from the use of money which does not make it the interest of the holder to delay his account. The process of the Exchequer colludes with this interest. Is this collusion from its want of rigor and strictness and great regularity of form ? The reverse is true. They have in the Exchequer brought rigor and formalism to their ultimate perfection. The process against accountants is so rigorous, and in a manner so unjust, that correctives must from time to time be applied to it. These correctives being discretionary, upon the case, and generally remitted by the
Barons to the Lords of the Treasury, as the best judges of the reasons for respite, hearings are had, delays are produced, and thus the extreme of rigor in office (as usual in all human affairs) leads to the extreme of laxity. What with the interested delay of the officer, the ill-conceived exactness of the court, the applications for dispensations from that exactness, the revival of rigorous process after the expiration of the time, and the new rigors producing new applications and now enlargements of time, such delays happen in the public accounts that they can scarcely ever be closed.
Besides, Sir, they have a rule in the Exchequer, which, I believe, they have founded upon a very ancient statute, that of the 51st of Henry the Third, by which it is provided, that, “when a sheriff or bailiff hath begun his account, none other shall be received to account, until he that was first appointed hath clearly accounted, and that the sum has been received." *
Whether this clause of that statute be the ground of that absurd practice I am not quite able to ascertain. But it has very generally prevailed, though I am told that of late they have began to relax from it. In consequence of forms adverse to substantial account, we have a long succession of paymasters and their representatives who have never been admitted to account, although perfectly ready
to do so.
As the extent of our wars has scattered the accountants under the paymaster into every part of the globe, the grand and sure paymaster, Death, in all his
* Et quaunt riscount ou baillif eit comence de acompter, nul aatre ne seit resceu de aconter tanque le primer qe soit assis eit peraccompte, et qe la somme soit resceu. Stat. 5. Ann Dom. 1266
shapes, calls these accountants to another reckoning. Death, indeed, domineers over everything but the forms of the Exchequer. Over these he has no power. They are impassive and immortal. The audit of the Exchequer, more severe than the audit to which the accountants are gone, demands proofs which in the nature of things are difficult, sometimes impossible, to be had. In this respect, too, rigor, as usual, defeats itself. Then the Exchequer never gives a particular receipt, or clears a man of his account as far as it goes. A final acquittance (or a quietus, as they term it) is scarcely ever to be obtained. Terrors and ghosts of unlaid accountants haunt the houses of their children from generation to generation. Families, in the course of succession, fall into minorities; the inheritance comes into the hands of females; and very perplexed affairs are often delivered over into the hands of negligent guardians and faithless stewards. So that the demand remains, when the advantage of the money is gone,- if ever any advantage at all has been made of it. This is a cause of infinite distress to families, and becomes a source of influence to an extent that can-scarcely be imagined, but by those who have taken some pains to trace it. The mildness of government, in the employment of useless and dangerous powers, furnishes no reason for their continuance.
As things stand, can you in justice (except perhaps in that over-perfect kind of justice which has obtained by its merits the title of the opposite vice *) insist that any man should, by the course of his office, keep a bank from whence he is to derive no advantage ? that a man should be subject to demands below and
* Summum jus summa injuria.
be in a manner refused an acquittance above, that he should transmit an original sin and inheritance of vexation to his posterity, without a power of compensating himself in some way or other for so perilous a situation ? We know, that, if the paymaster should deny himself the advantages of his bank, the public, as things stand, is not the richer for it by a single shilling. This I thought it necessary to say as to the offensive magnitude of the profits of this office, that we may proceed in reformation on the principles of reason, and not on the feelings of envy.
The treasurer of the navy is, mutatis mutandis, in the same circumstances. Indeed, all accountants are. Instead of the present mode, which is troublesome to the officer and unprofitable to the public, I propose to substitute something more effectual than rigor, which is the worst exactor in the world. I mean to remove the very temptations to delay; to facilitate the account; and to transfer this bank, now of private emolument, to the public. The crown will suffer no wrong at least from the pay offices; and its terrors will no longer reign over the families of those who hold or have held them. I propose that these offices should be no longer banks or treasuries, but mere offices of administration. I propose, first, that the present paymaster and the treasurer of the navy should carry into the Exchequer the whole body of the vouchers for what they have paid over to deputy-paymasters, to regimental agents, or to any of those to whom they have and ought to have paid money. I propose that those vouchers shall be admitted as actual payments in their accounts, and that the persons to whom the money has been paid shall then stand charged in the Exchequer' in their place. After this process, they
shall be debited or charged for nothing but the money-balance that remains in their hands.
I am conscious, Sir, that, if this balance (which they could not expect to be so suddenly demanded by any. usual process of the Exchequer) should now be exacted all at once, not only their ruin, but a ruin of others to an extent which I do not like to think of, but which I can well conceive, and which you may well conceive, might be the consequence. I told you, Sir, when I promised before the holidays to bring in this plan, that I never would suffer any man or description of men to suffer from errors that naturally have grown out of the abusive constitution of those offices which I propose to regulate. If I cannot reform with equity, I will not reform at all.
For the regulation of past accounts, I shall therefore propose such a mode, as men, temperate and prudent, make use of in the management of their private affairs, when their accounts are various, per plexed, and of long standing. I would therefore, after their example, divide the public debts into three sorts, - good, bad, and doubtful. In looking over the public accounts, I should never dream of the blind mode of the Exchequer, which regards things in the abstract, and knows no difference in the quality of its debts or the circumstances of its debtors. By this means it fatigues itself, it vexes others, it often crushes the poor, it lets escape the rich, or, in a fit of mercy or carelessness, declines all means of recovering its just demands. Content with the eternity of its claims, it enjoys its Epicurean divinity with Epicurean languor. But it is proper that all sorts of accounts should be closed some time or other, - by payment, by composition, or by oblivion. Expedit reipub