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the wonder of the public. A clerk in the Patent Office stole some fees, and naturally the men of the nineteenth century thought our principal finance minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would be, as in France, responsible for it. But the English law was different somehow. The Patent Office was under the Lord Chancellor, and the Court of Chancery is one of the multitude of our institutions which owe their existence to free competition,and so it was the Lord Chancellor's business to look after the fees, which of course, as an occupied judge, he could not. A certain Act of Parliament did indeed require that the fees of the Patent Office should be paid into the “Exchequer;" and, again, the “ Chancellor of the Exchequer” was thought to be responsible in the matter, but only by those who did not know. According to our system the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the enemy of the Exchequer; a whole series of enactments try to protect it from him. Until a few months ago there was a very lucrative sinecure called the" Comptrollership of the Exchequer," designed to guard the Exchequer against its Chancellor; and the last holder, Lord Monteagle, used to say he was the pivot of the English Constitution. I have not room to explain what he meant, and it is not needful; what is to the purpose is that, by an inherited series of historical complexities, a defaulting clerk in an office of no litigation was not under natural authority, the finance minister, but under a far-away judge who had never heard of him.
The whole office of the Lord Chancellor is a heap of anomalies. He is a judge, and it is contrary to obvious principle that any part of administration should be entrusted to a judge; it is of very grave moment that the administration of justice should be kept clear of any sinister temptations. Yet the Lord Chancellor, our chief judge, sits in the Cabinet, and makes party speeches in the Lords. Lord Lyndhurst was a principal Tory politician, and yet he presided in the O'Connell case. Lord Westbury was in chronic wrangle with the bishops, but he gave judgment upon “Essays and Reviews.” In truth, the Lord Chancellor became a Cabinet Minister, because, being near the person of the sovereign, he was high in court precedence, and not upon a political theory wrong or right.
A friend once told me that an intelligent Italian asked him about the principal English officers, and that he was very puzzled to explain their duties, and especially to explain the relation of their duties to their titles. I do not remember all the cases, but I can recollect that the Italian could not comprehend why the First “ Lord of the Treasury” had as a rule nothing to do with the Treasury, or why the “Woods and Forests” looked after the sewerage of towns. This conversation was years before the cattle plague, but I should like to have heard the reasons why the Privy Council Office had charge of that malady. Of course one could give an historical reason, but I mean an administrative reason—a reason which would show, not how it came to have the duty, but why in future it should keep it.
But the unsystematic and casual arrangement of our public offices is not more striking than their difference of arrangeinent for the one purpose they have in common. They all, being under the ultimate direction of a Parliamentary official, ought to have the best means of bringing the whole of the higher concerns of the office before that official. When the fresh mind rules, the fresh mind requires to be informed. And most business being rather alike, the machinery for bringing it before the extrinsic chief ought, for the most part, to be similar : at any rate, where it is different, it ought to be different upon reason; and where it is similar, similar upon reason.
Yet there are almost no two offices which are exactly alike in the defined relations of the permanent official to the Parliamentary chief. Let us see.
The army and navy are the most similar in nature, yet there is in the army a permanent outside office, called the Horse Guards, to which there is nothing else like. In the navy, there is a curious anomaly—a Board of Admiralty, also changing with every government, which is to instruct the First Lord in what he does not know. The relations between the First Lord and the Board have not always been easily intelligible, and those between the War Office and the Horse Guards are in extreme consusion. Even now a Parliamentary paper relating to them has just been presented to the House of Commons, which says the fundamental and ruling document cannot be traced beyond the possession of Sir George Lewis, who was Secretary for War three years since; and the confused details are endless, as they must be in a chronic contention of offices. At the Board of Trade there is only the hypothesis of a Board; it has long ceased to exist. Even the President and Vice-President do not regularly meet for the transaction of affairs. The patent of the latter is only to transact business in the absence of the President, and if the two are not intimate, and the President chooses to act himself, the Vice-President sees no papers, and does nothing. At the Treasury the shadow of a Board exists, but its members have no power, and are the very officials whom Canning said existed to make a House, to keep a House, and to cheer the ministers. The India Office has a fixed “Council;” but the Colonial Office, which rules over our other dependencies and colonies, has not, and never had, the vestige of a council. Any of these varied constitutions may be right, but all of them can scarcely be right.
In truth the real constitution of a permanent office to be ruled by a permanent chief has been discussed only once in England: that case was a peculiar and anomalous one, and the decision then taken was dubious. A new India Office, when the East India Company was abolished, had to be made. The late Mr. James Wilson, a consummate judge of administrative affairs, then maintained that no council ought to be appointed eo nomine, but that the true Council of a Cabinet minister was a certain number of highly paid, much occupied, responsible secretaries, whom the minister could consult either separately or together, as, and when, he chose. Such secretaries, Mr. Wilson maintained, must be able, for no minister will sacrifice his own convenience, and endanger his own reputation by appointing a fool to a post so near himself, and where he can do much harm. A member of a Board may easily be incompetent; if some other members and the
chairmen are able, the addition of one or two stupid men will not be felt; they will receive their salaries and do nothing. But a permanent under-secretary, charged with a real control over much important business, must be able, or his superior will be blamed, and there will be “a scrape in Parliament."
I cannot here discuss, nor am I competent to discuss, the best mode of composing public offices, and of adjusting them to a Parliamentary head. There ought to be on record skilled evidence on the subject before a person without any specific experience can to any purpose think about it. But I may observe that the plan which Mr. Wilson suggested is that followed in the most successful part of our administration, the "Ways and Means” part When the Chancellor of the Exchequer prepares a Budget, he requires from the responsible heads of the revenue department their estimates of the public revenue upon the preliminary hypothesis that no change is made, but that last year's taxes will continue; if, afterwards, he thinks of making an alteration, he requires a report on that too. If he has to renew Exchequer bills, or operate anyhow in the City, he takes the opinion, oral or written, of the ablest and most responsible person at the National Debt Office, and the ablest and most responsible at the Treasury. Mr. Gladstone, by far the greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer of this generation, one of the very greatest of any generation, has often gone out of his way to express his obligation to these responsible skilled advisers. The more a man knows himself, the more habituated he is to action in general, the more sure he is