§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, this was a limited and partial measure on a subject of considerable extent and importance. In 1857 a Committee of great weight was appointed to consider a subject of wide range, and was called the Committee on Public Moneys. This Committee recommended a large extension of the duties and powers of the Board of Audit. They added—If these suggestions be adopted it will be necessary that the composition and relative position of this Board, as a great Department of State, should be re-considered by the executive Government. The Board of Audit is responsible to Parliament alone; and the station and emoluments of the person at the head of it should be equal in the importance of the duties to be performed, and not second in rank to any permanent officer presiding over our other principal Departments.In the spirit of that recommendation the Government entirely concurred, and from time to time various steps had been taken with regard to the extension of the Department piecemeal; but there had not been yet any general re-construction, as it might be called, of the duties of the Department upon the broad principles which the Committee undoubtedly contemplated. Before the commencement of the present year it was made known to the Government that the late Chairman of the Board of Audit had definitely determined on applying for retirement, and his noble Friend (Viscount 285 Palmerston) was called upon to appoint a new Chairman to the Board. It then became the duty of the Government to consider whether the time was not arrived for taking measures for a general consideration of the subject of audit and of the functions and composition of the Board. The question then arose whether it was necessary to burden the public in increasing the emoluments of the officer at the head of the Board, and while the Government thought such an increase necessary, they also thought they saw their way clear to that arrangement without increasing, and, indeed, with a diminution of public burdens. Their proposal was to unite the functions of the head of the Board of Audit with those of the Controller of the Exchequer in the same person. They were of opinion that the combination of those offices would have many advantages besides the mere substitution of one salary for two. The Controller of the Exchequer was at the head of an ancient office, and exercised duties very various in their character and dignity. He had the custody of the standards of weights and measures, a duty entirely inconsistent with and unsustained by any of the analogies at the Department; and better provision could be made for the performance of that duty. The Controller of the Exchequer used to be the manufacturer every year, and, indeed, twice a year of the new sets of Exchequer bills which it was formerly the custom to renew annually. The superintending the manufacture of these bills and affixing the signature to them was one of the more considerable duties of the office. But some years ago an Act was passed providing that these bills should only be renewed once in five years. The financial engagements and the arrangements connected with them varied from year to year and from six months to six months; but the Bill itself was only renewable once in five years. At the time this Act passed it was distinctly in the contemplation of the Government, and, he might say, of Parliament, that the manufacture of those bills should be carried over from the Exchequer to the Bank; for it was provided in the Act that the remuneration given to the Bank for the payment of Exchequer bills should include any charges connected with the renewal of the bills. There were several other functions of the Controller of the Exchequer with which it was not necessary to trouble the House, but the function of the greatest importance and dignity was that called the 286 Exchequr Control. It was the duty of the Controller of the Exchequer to note all the issues of public money that were authorized to take place under warrants from the Treasury, and to see that those issues were within the amounts voted by Parliament. This was a duty entailing very little labour, occupying very little time, and far from demanding or justifying the maintenance of a separate establishment. The office was invested with dignity and with considerable emolument, was of the very highest station in the permanent Civil Service, and comprised functions which required entire independence of the Executive Government. The headship of the Board of Audit was a very responsible office, and one involving duties of much greater amount than the Controllership of the Exchequer; but there was nothing in the duties of either which would render their combination in the hands of the same person in the slightest degree inconvenient. By this union the station of the head of the Board of Audit would be elevated, the independence of the Controller of the Exchequer would be maintained, and the charge to the public would be reduced. The present Controller of the Exchequer, well known to the Members of this House as a very distinguished person, and as an old public servant, was disposed to retire, and it was the intention of his noble Friend at the head of the Government to advise the grant to Lord Monteagle of one of the pensions now in abeyance, and due to him for political services in two of the offices he formerly held as Secretary of State for the Colonies and Chancellor of the Exchequer. During the life of Lord Monteagle, therefore, an increased public charge of £500 a year would result from the new arrangement; but this would be only an individual tenure. The consolidation of the two offices would effect a prospective economy, and this would not be the sole advantage of the arrangement. There was a great and obvious advantage in obtaining from Parliament authority to place at the head of the two offices one and the same person, who would give his assistance in making those arrangements with respect to the filling up of vacancies in the Audit Office which would be most economical to the public. He did not say that in point of law the Government would not be able to combine the two offices in a single person without coming to Parliament; but he was afraid that the person appointed would in 287 such case be entitled to draw the salary of each office separately, and that was not a state of things which the Government desired. The Audit Office was at present large, and might, with an extension of duties, probably become larger; and it would be advantageous to be enabled to effect these combinations during the present Parliament. Power was taken under the Bill to make one appointment to the office of Controller General, and to make provision for the duties of the Assistant Controller, who, in fact, simply acted as the substitute of the Controller during his necessary absence. With regard to the officers of the Department, provision would be made in that considerate manner which was usual in regard to arrangements of this kind. One of them, he took occasion to mention, was a Gentleman of great merit, Mr. Chisholm, the head of the establishment of the Exchequer, than whom no more competent person was to be found in the whole Civil Service, and it was to be hoped the country would long continue to have the benefit of his valuable services. By the third clause the salary of the Controller was fixed. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought he had shown sufficient cause why the appointment should not be postponed, it being understood that the present legislation would not interfere with the reconsideration of the subject of duties. He was anxious to obtain from the House liberty and sanction for objects which were strictly of a practical character, and which involved the public economy, and, he believed, the principles of good legislation. It had occurred to him that possibly it might be the feeling of the House to confine the measure to making some provision for the present, and not to legislate at once for the whole of the future. In that case he would have no objection to alter a few words in the Bill to give effect to that desire. He moved the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, that any one might suppose from the state of the House, and from the period of the Session at which the Bill was brought forward, that it was a matter of petty detail or official routine, whereas it was a measure for the abrogation of one of the most ancient and honourable offices in the King- 288 dom. The office of the Exchequer dated from the Norman Conquest; its birth was coeval with the birth of the Kingdom of England. Yet the end of this Bill, if passed, would be that this ancient institution would be utterly swept away. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not now persevere with a measure of such magnitude. If this were a common Session, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had waited until the 15th of June to introduce such a Bill, we should hold that he had not dealt fairly with the House, nor with those Members who had been driven, by weariness and lassitude, to seek repose and solace at their country seats. But this is not the close of a usual Session. This Bill has been thrust before a moribund Parliament now panting at its last gasp. So many Members had left town, so many had gone down to their constituents to solicit support at the approaching general election, and were already canvassing through the country, that the Government had the greatest difficulty in keeping a House for their own business. It was counted out last Friday during the Committee of Supply. Was it, then, fair or decorous in the right hon. Gentleman now to introduce a matter of such stupendous magnitude and paramount importance? He desired not to oppose the principle of the Bill, but to have the subject amply and deliberately discussed. The arguments in favour of it should be carefully weighed; those against it should be thoroughly investigated; they should then balance them and arrive at a mature, a sound, and permanent conclusion on the whole question. Any decision they could now arrive at, in this superficial and hasty manner, would not have weight with the country, and would be scorned and tossed aside by a new Parliament. This was not a matter of great urgency, and as Lord Monteagle had not yet resigned, he did not see why there should be such haste. Why not wait for three little months until the meeting of the new Parliament? What loss could accrue to the country? What damage would thereby be caused to public business? Would the accounts be thereby thrown into confusion? Would the revenue of the country be diminished by postponing this measure? More was to be feared from hasty legislation than from prudent delay. This measure had been hustled up to its present position. It was introduced on Monday night without explanation; it was printed and delivered yesterday; and 289 they were asked to affirm the principle today. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Bill was brought in to effect a saving, but at the end of his speech he destroyed his own argument by stating that it would cause an additional expenditure of £500 a year. Supposing, however, that it would make a saving, the House should consider whether, while saving a paltry sum of £2,000 on the one hand, there might not be a loss of £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 sterling on the other. Nay, more; they must remember that they lost far more than money could represent in sweeping away an ancient institution, if they thereby caused a violation of constitutional practice by freeing the Minister from the check and control which existed at present. Every man sought to increase his power. Ministers were no exception to the common condition of humanity. They very naturally kicked at every instance of control, and endeavoured to disburden themselves from every check. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it would be inconvenient if the Bill did not pass, because, in the event of Lord Monteagle's death, a new appointment must be made, and that this appointment must be for life. This, therefore (he would have us believe), must postpone sine die the proposed reforms in our financial laws. But the right hon. Gentleman had forgotten that, by the 3rd clause of the Exchequer Act, the appointment was always made subject to abolition or regulation by Parliament. This argument ah inconveniente had therefore no force. The principle of this Bill was to unite the offices and combine the functions of the Controller of the Exchequer and of the Chairman of the Board of Audit. Before the House could come to a judgment on the principle of the Bill, it was necessary to define clearly what were the functions of the Controller of the Exchequer, and what were the functions of the Commissioners of Audit, And if the functions of those officers were, as he maintained they were, inconsistent and incompatible, they could not be so hastily combined. It had been represented that the function of the Controller of the Exchequer was to watch the appropriation of the money voted by that House. This had been so often repeated, so frequently whispered, that it came at last to be regarded as a fact, and received as an indisputable truth. Then those who were anxious to abolish the Exchequer pointed out that the Controller could not really perform that func- 290 tion. But the fact was that the Controller had nothing to do with appropriation; his duty was to watch over the issues. He (Lord Robert Montagu) distinctly denied that the Controller of the Exchequer was ever intended to follow money to its appropriation; he asserted that it had been devised as a check over issues; and the Exchequer had not failed of performing its function. That that was the case was explicitly stated in the Report of the Committee on Public Moneys, which sat in 1856 and 1857, and of the Commission which preceded it. The Commissioners of Public Accounts reported in 1831 that the functions of the Exchequer consisted in—(1.) That of the receipt and safe custody of the public treasure. (2.) That of control over the Crown and its Ministers. (3.) That of record.In all this there is not a word of appropriation. How, then, could it be argued that because the Exchequer was no check on appropriation, it was therefore a useless office, and failed of its intention? Lord Monteagle, before the Committee of Public Moneys, was asked—(605.) Do you consider it as a part of the functions of the Controller of the Exchequer to see that the Paymaster in any way makes a proper use of the money when once paid to him?— Certainly not; when withdrawn from the Exchequer account I have no such authority.The Controller of the Exchequer, therefore, distinctly repudiates such a function as that which some had ignorantly or designedly endeavoured to saddle upon him. Mr. Anderson, the Chief Clerk of the Treasury, admitted to the same Committee—(1034.) The Exchequer can have no control over the final appropriation of the public money.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, who was examining him, then said—(1035.) I am not inquiring about the final appropriation of the public money; be so good as to confine yourself to the issue of money into the hands of the man who has to appropriate it. Do you consider the control now exercised by the Exchequer a sufficient check for that issue?—It is the utmost that you can have.It had been said, also, that that check was unreal and a mere fiction. That cry had not been echoed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He doubtless repudiated such an assertion, and refrained from using it in argument. It would have been very inconsistent if he had done so. For if the function of the Controller of the Exchequer is an unreality, why transfer 291 it to the Board of Audit? Why insult them by imposing upon them a fiction? Why delude the nation in thinking that a check was maintained in their behalf when no control existed? Why make the Board of Audit lend themselves to this hallucination? But it might be granted that the check was not often required: but that was no argument against its maintenance. Three-deckers were not often wanted, yet they were built and maintained. The fortifications in England which were now being constructed at great cost, might never be used, and yet we paid large sums for building them. It was a fallacy, therefore, to say that because the check was not often called into exercise, it was therefore inoperative and useless. Its fallacy was proved by the Report of the Public Moneys Committee. In the Appendix, there was a list of about 200 cases in which the Controller of the Exchequer had exercised a real authority over Ministers of the Crown. Among other payments which that officer had prevented was one of £90,000 which the Treasury had endeavoured to draw out of the Consolidated Fund. To this the Controller objected; his objection was valid; the Treasury had to give way. At another time the Treasury attempted to draw out of the Consolidated Fund a sum in excess of the salary of the Lord High Chancellor. This again the Controller prevented, and saved that sum to the country. At another time the Treasury wanted to draw out of the Consolidated Fund the amount of the pension of a man who was dead. This was also effectually resisted and prevented by the Controller. The fact was that the Controller of the Exchequer exercised a real and very important control over issues. First, there was the check which he exercised over the issue from the Consolidated Fund of salaries and moneys drawn under Acts of Parliament; secondly, he prevented more money being issued from the Exchequer than the gross total of the annual Votes; and, thirdly, he permitted no money to be issued until the Appropriation Bill had been passed. If the Exchequer were abolished, which would be the ultimate effect of this Bill, money might be employed by the Treasury without the sanction of Parliament at all. Money might be drawn out of the Exchequer without assembling the House to vote it. The same might occur in this country which was now passing in Prussia. The contest of the 17th century in this country might again be renewed. 292 The only two Acts which rendered it absolutely necessary that Parliament should meet every year were the Mutiny Act and and the Appropriation Act; because, by the expiration of the former Act, the army was dissolved at the end of the year, and the Controller of the Exchequer would allow no money to be issued until the latter Act had been passed. Until the last two or three years no one troubled themselves about the Mutiny Bill. The Appropriation Bill had likewise been gradually ground down and attenuated; but the check had been restored to it within the last three years, and it was saved for a time. What now were the functions of the Board of Audit? The functions of the Board of Audit were entirely different from those which he had described as belonging to the Controller of the Exchequer. It was a detective society; it could not interfere with the action of the Government—it could not arrest Ministers in a course of misappropriation—it could in no way fetter the action of the Executive. Its business was to discover, not prevent, misappropriation. It had to search and investigate, and if it discovered that money had been misappropriated it could only report the circumstance to Parliament, and leave Parliament to deal with the Administration as they thought proper. By this Bill the functions of the Board of Audit would be entirely changed, and it would fetter the action of the Government and receive authority over issues with which the Commissioners of Audit had now nothing to do. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER shook his head.] Then, the effect would be to substitute for the existing two checks—the one operating before the issue of the money, and the other afterwards—the merely one-sided check of the Board of Audit. You abandon all control over the issues before expenditure, and trust alone to the Appropriation check which comes into operation after the money has been spent and the accounts rendered. That that check was practically very slight was proved by the circumstance that, although the Board of Audit had reported that the Board of Works had misappropriated £176,000, not a word had been said about the matter in that House. The Board of Audit reported the misappropriation of an enormous sum, and yet the Minister had not been called to account for it by the House. Hence the check was not very severe. But if they were to trust to this subsequent check alone, then it should be made co-extensive 293 with the present cheek of the Exchequer. It should be extended to all the accounts; it was wrong to leave some accounts free from all check or control whatsoever. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had rehearsed a portion of the Report of the Committee of Public Moneys, wherein they recommended that the powers of the Board of Audit should be extended, that the rank of the chairman should be exalted, and that he should receive an increased salary, and should be made independent of Ministers, and amenable to the House of Commons alone. That portion of the Report was familiar to him (Lord Robert Montagu), for he had adopted it in 1862 as the substance of a Motion which had been opposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That matter wa3 now not touched by the Bill before the House. But before those important functions were conferred upon the Board of Audit it must be dealt with. The Board now audited a few accounts, but they ought to audit all. Then it would be possible to make some requisite changes in the Exchequer. Every witness who testified in favour of a change in the office of the Exchequer in 1856 and 1857 had put this forward as the necessary prelude. This formed the basis of Sir George Lewis's famous memorandum. He recommended some changes in the Exchequer, preceded, however, by the extension of the sphere and powers of the Audit Board. In the year 1860 there was a Motion carried by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring), which went the length of saying that all accounts should be audited by the Commissioners of Audit. That had not been done, and yet the House was now invited to alter the constitution of the Exchequer. The Committee on Public Accounts in 1861 had again entreated and urged the Government to extend the sphere of the Board of Audit. But all had been in vain. He had referred to a clause in the Act which said that the Controller of the Exchequer should hold no other office, and there was another clause which decreed that Exchequer Bills should be prepared only by that officer. Exchequer Bills were, in fact, a creation of public debt. They were securities transferable from hand to hand, like bank notes, and payable to bearer. If this Bill passed, who would draw Exchequer Bills in future? Was it to be the Audit Office? It was not consistent with their proper functions to increase at pleasure the amount of the public debt. 294 Was it to be the Treasury? What, then, would prevent them from issuing Exchequer Bills beyond the amount authorized by Parliament? Was it to be left entirely in their hands to increase the Public Debt, without check or control? That the Commissioners of Accounts of 1831 regarded this as a real danger is proved by the following passage in their Report:—To prevent the issue of any Exchequer Bills beyond the amount authorized by Parliament, it should be provided that every such Bill be countersigned at the Exchequer before it can obtain a legal currency.And yet, in defiance of all these recommendations, the Exchequer Office was to be swept away. There were anomalies which this Bill would not touch. According to the present law the Controller only allowed money to issue for the use of certain specified services, and in his warrant he declared that the money so issued should be applied to those particular services, and to no others. The Paymaster was strictly forbidden to apply the money drawn for one purpose to any other purposes. Nevertheless, as soon as he received the various sums, he threw them all into one drawing account and one balance, and applied the whole indiscriminately for all the services. He did not deny that there might be a necessity for such a proceeding, hut certainly it was illegal, and any Bill professing to deal with this subject should deal with anomalies such as that. Many remedies had been suggested. One was that instead of haying one Paymaster, there should be an accountant for each service, who should draw what was required for that service, and keep a balance for that service alone. A great injury would thus result. The total of all the balances in the hands of this multitude of Paymasters would amount to far more than the balance which lies idle in the hands of a single Paymaster. The difference between these sums did not now lie idle, but was used in reducing Deficiency Bills. He admitted that something ought to be done, but he doubted whether this was the right time for doing it, A far better course would be to wait three months, when a new Parliament would consider the whole subject of the constitution of the Board of Audit and its duties. The whole Exchequer question could be simultaneously debated; and then, after careful consideration, a sound, a definite, and a permanent arrangement could be effected. Impressed with that belief, he should move that the second reading of the Bill be deferred for three months.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, he seconded the Motion. In one respect the Chancellor of the Exchequer had fallen into an error. The right hon. Gentleman had rightly said that the present office of Controller of the Exchequer included very heterogeneous matters, but the union of that office with the Chairmanship of the Board of Audit would entail duties very little homogeneous. It must be an anomaly to unite in one person the duties of exercising control over issues and of presiding over a body which performed the duties of audit. Lord Monteagle, in his evidence, had stated that the most important manner in which the Controller of the Exchequer acted was when he acted by way of prevention, and the knowledge of the existence of that check prevented any necessity for the use of it. If there was not some control there would be great confusion in the appropriation of the sums voted by Parliament. He understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that the office of the Chairman of the Board of Audit was held quam diu se bene gesserit. What was the effect of such a tenure? Some said it meant that a man was to hold his office as long as he had good health; but he took it that an appointment quam diu se bene gesserit continued as long as the holder of the office behaved himself properly, was guilty of no misconduct, and was under no incapacity; that it was an office to be held for life. An hon. Member near him (Sir David Dundas) said, there must be some conviction against such an office before he could he removed; but perhaps the Attorney General would enlighten them on that point. His own belief was that the tenure quam diu se bene gesserit was not quite so secure a tenure as the hon. Member near him supposed. He thought a writ of supersedeas might still issue, and that it must be granted upon some cause stated in the writ, and then the Minister would be responsible to Parliament for the justice of that cause; but he did not understand it to he the law that a writ of supersedeas would not issue except upon a conviction. He wished to know whether the tenure of the office of Chairman of the Board of Audit was not less secure than that of the office of the Controller of the Exchequer, who could not he removed except upon an address from both Houses of Parliament; because, if that was so, and if they happened to have an unprincipled Government which wanted to remove a man, it might find out something against 296 him, so that the office would not he as positively secure as a freehold office. These were important points, which he would like to have cleared up before they passed that Bill. If they joined to an office known to the Constitution, and having a permanent tenure, another office the tenure of which was not so permanent, they went in the teeth, if not of the letter, at least of the spirit, of the third clause in the Exchequer Act, the object of which was not only to make the Controller of the Exchequer irremovable, but to prevent him from holding any other office not equally permanent. He thought it highly undesirable that the Controller of the Exchequer should hold any other office at all; because, although the duties of the Controllership might not he numerous, the post was one of such responsibility as to require the entire attention of one man. Another point which he desired to have cleared up in connection with that Bill was—Did the measure positively unite the office of the Controller of the Exchequer and that of the Chairman of the Board of Audit, and make them so closely associated that the Government of the day could never confer the office of Controller of the Exchequer on any one except the Chairman of the Board of Audit, and vice versâ? A small saving to the public from the amalgamation of these offices would be a very poor compensation for the evil of fusing into one office functions which, if not absolutely incompatible, were very inconsistent and heterogeneous, and the union of which would pro tanto affect the dignity, independence, and the insulated position, as it were, of an officer who was the guardian and custodian of the public money, and had in fact to see that the Votes of that House were properly and rigidly carried into effect.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Lord Robert Montagu.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR FRANCIS BARING
said, he could assure the noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu) that there was no truth whatever in the reports to which he had referred in respect to this question. He wished that that Bill had been brought forward when there was a better opportunity for its discussion. It was a short Bill, but it dealt with a matter of far greater moment 297 than the mere saving of a small sum of money by a union of these offices. He had long been of opinion that the office of the Controller of the Exchequer and the Audit Office required some revision. The office of the Controller of the Exchequer was originally a very important one, but it had now become very inefficient. Everybody who went through the evidence taken by the Public Moneys Committee would be satisfied that the check which that officer exercised in former times was now gone. It was very desirable that check should be revived. He used to issue his warrant to each particular department, the Army, the Navy, or the Ordnance, and the Treasurer of those Departments could not expend money upon anything not connected with his own service. Some new arrangement was needed, and it was of the utmost importance that the Audit Office should be strengthened. In the Report, which had been referred to, the late Sir James Graham had declared that in his opinion the Audit Office required strengthening; and every examination which he (Sir Francis Baring) had made when he was on the Committee of Public Accounts satisfied him that the Audit Office was one of the greatest importance, and ought to be strengthened. Sir James Graham proposed a plan by which the two offices might be consolidated, but it was not adopted by the Committee. He had no hesitation in saying that he preferred two separate offices, because he thought their union might be found to be attended with much danger. A contrary opinion, however, was entertained by so many gentlemen whose position entitled their views upon the subject to respect that he had not such confidence in his own opinion as to lead him to oppose what might ultimately be regarded as the wisest course to pursue. He had no objection to the Bill if it were to be regarded as a temporary measure only, and he saw no reason why it should not be so altered in Committee as to render it purely temporary in its character. The House should be careful how they gave their sanction to the principle of the abolition of the office of the Controller of the Exchequer without previous inquiry, and he thought it would be better to provide for a temporary arrangement than for the present Parliament to sanction the union of the two offices once for all. He was particularly desirous that no remark of his might appear to cast any reflection upon the Treasury or any 298 of the heads of that Department, because a great deal had been done of late years in the improvement of the public accounts, and that improvement had more especially been visible during the period in which the right hon. Gentleman had held office. He hoped, therefore, that some arrangement might be made to drop some part of the Bill, or that the right hon. Gentleman would give the House an assurance that Parliament itself should be called upon at some future time to deal definitely with the subject.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he could not refrain from expressing his regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in introducing this measure, should have laid so much stress upon the small saving which would ultimately accrue from the amalgamation of these two offices, because the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman had, he feared, conveyed the impression to some hon. Gentlemen who had taken part in the debate that the Bill had been introduced for the purpose of effecting a saving of one or two thousand pounds a year. If that were so it was a strong reason for not proceeding further with it. It seemed to him, however, there was a more important object to be obtained by the measure. To some extent he differed from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring), and he was in favour of what he understood to be the principle of the Bill. The real subject for consideration was what should be the arrangement for securing the right appropriation of public money. They had at present three offices—the Treasury, the Exchequer, and the Audit Office, with certain functions divided between them, those functions being derived from very ancient times. As those functions, however, had of late years from the condition of affairs, become greatly changed, he thought it was advisable that their position should now be revised. It was especially worthy the consideration of the House whether there any longer existed any real necessity for keeping up the department of the Exchequer at all. If, as he inferred, the object of the Bill was to put an end to the control of the Exchequer as a distinct office of the estate, while, individually, he was willing to consent to such a course he felt scrupulous at adopting, at the present stage of the present Parliament, a measure contemplating such an object. The question was one of great importance, and one upon which, as they 299 could perceive, different opinions were entertained by high authorities. The final settlement of such a question ought therefore, in his opinion, to be left to the consideration of a new Parliament, where it would receive better attention than it could possibly do under the present circumstances. If they looked for a moment at the real question between Parliament and the Government, they would see that Parliament granted to the Government certain sums of money for executive purposes, and that Parliament possessed two pieces of machinery—the Exchequer and the Audit Office, intended for the control of the Government in the expenditure of the money which had been placed in its hands. The consideration and adjustment of any changes in these modes of controlling the expenditure of the Government was a matter, therefore, of great importance, and one with which the present Parliament was scarcely in a position to deal satisfactorily. Out of respect to Parliament these changes should be produced at a time when in a full House they could be fairly and fully considered. Another objection to their proceeding with this Bill, as a final measure, was, that in the system of these two offices it was desirable to introduce a variety of improvements. It was, no doubt, true, that a good many improvements had already been introduced, and that this had especially been the case with regard to the Audit Office; but the passing of this measure would lessen those inducements which at present existed for proceeding with the improvement of the system generally. He should wish to see introduced, at the earliest possible moment after the sitting of the new Parliament, a measure containing provisions not merely for the re-construction of the Exchequer, and, if necessary, of the Audit Office, but also for dealing with those questions affecting the superintendence of the appropriation of public moneys which required solution. That being his feeling, he still thought it would be unfortunate if they rejected the Bill, and he could not, therefore, support the Amendment of his noble Friend (Lord Robert Montagu), because he felt that, if a vacancy were to occur during the recess in the office of the Controller General, without any alteration having been made in the law, it would be the duty of the Government to appoint a new Controller of the Exchequer, and such an appointment would create new difficulties and increased expenditure in the final settlement 300 of this question in case the abolition of the office were deemed necessary. He thought, therefore, that as the matter now stood it would be desirable to frame such a provision as would meet the contingency which would arise from such a vacancy. He might, he believed, say that such a vacancy had already arisen, and for his own part he should not at all object to an arrangement by which the present Chairman of the Board of Audit should be appointed to the office of Controller General in conjunction with the office which he at present held, and that a proper addition should be made to his present salary, but he objected to their deciding at once that such should be the course proposed on all future occasions. He should like, therefore, to see some proviso annexed to the third clause to the effect that any person holding the office should hold it subject to any arrangement with regard to salary or duties which Parliament might hereafter determine upon. His object, in suggesting the insertion of such a proviso, was a desire that the hands of Parliament should not be fettered in the future discussion and settlement of the question. Another alteration which he thought he was fairly entitled to ask for in the Bill was the omission of the second clause. He could not see the necessity for introducing such a clause. It was prejudging the question, although he was rather prepared to go in the same direction; but it would be more respectful to Parliament to omit it from the Bill. He would therefore support the second reading of the Bill; but, unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested some other mode of accomplishing the object, he should propose the alterations to which he had referred. This was a matter of really very great importance. It had been for a long time under consideration, and although he was anxious to see it settled it would be a great pity to hurry it at the last. At the present time the attention of the public had been called to the defects of our system of audit. The question was also being considered by a Committee upstairs on the public accounts. They ought to deal with the Exchequer and Audit Office in a way which would satisfy the public that every reasonable precaution was taken for preventing the misappropriation of public money and other frauds and irregularities, and to settle the relations between the three great departments—the Treasury, the Exchequer, and the Audit Office—on a much more satis- 301 factory footing than at present. His noble Friend had stated his views with great ability, but he disagreed with him to a great extent in some parts of his speech, and he appealed to him whether it would be worth while to press his Amendment to a division, It would be better to make the necessary alterations in Committee and to leave the matter to be discussed more fully in another Parliament.
SIR MINTO FARQUHAR
said, he hoped they would have a very distinct explanation of the views and intentions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the suggestions made by his hon. Friend (Sir Stafford Northcote) before his noble Friend consented not to press his Amendment to a division. The functions of the Audit Board and the Exchequer were different. The duty of the one was to look into the accounts, that of the other was to be a positive and absolute check. In matters of finance, he had always found that the last thing they should give up was any salutory check. After what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Francis Baring) who had taken so much pains, and had so much experience in this matter, he hoped his noble Friend would press his Amendment unless they received a satisfactory answer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
said, he thought the question whether the offices of Chairman of the Board of Audit and Controller of the Exchequer could well be held by one individual a matter of much less consequence than whether, according to the impression he, in common with his hon. Friend (Sir Stafford Northcote), derived from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, it was meant to do away with the Controller. That was a most important question. No doubt one man might hold both these offices as head; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, throwing out as he did that the abolition of the office of Controller would be done with that tenderness always exhibited in these matters, it was pretty clear that it must be meant to do away with that office altogether. If the functions of the office regarding the present control over public moneys were still to be performed, there must be a staff for each office to assist the holder, whether he held one or two offices, to do that duty. Now, the office of Controller of the Exchequer was to prevent improper issues of public money. It was perfectly true that the Audit Office might discover a year or two afterwards 302 that such issues had taken place, but it would then be too late. The moneys would have gone out of the Exchequer, and once gone it would be like trying to catch hold of an cel. They might blame individuals, but the money was lost. Although quite disposed to give full credit to the Lords of the Treasury, the Controller of the Exchequer was a constitutional officer, placed between them and Parliament to see that moneys directed by Parliament to go in a particular direction should go in that direction only; and he must say what he saw in the Public Moneys Committee had convinced him that considerable value belonged to the functions of the Controller. Some of the officers of the Treasury, in giving evidence, showed that the office gave them a little trouble. It made them look to their P's and Q's. They did not like it, and evidently wanted to get rid of it. They might again fall on bad times; and he should be sorry to see this wholesome check abolished. No public advantage would be gained by doing away with it. His hon. Friend below (Sir Stafford Northcote) had suggested what was not an unreasonable course. The question had been brought before them so suddenly, the Bill being only circulated yesterday, that some reasonable time should be given for its consideration, and he should be quite content if the Chancellor of the Exchequer adopted the course suggested by his hon. Friend. He hoped he would not drive them to oppose the second reading of the Bill by persisting in portions of it, which, after the statement of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Francis Baring), should be expunged.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, a great portion of this debate had arisen from the importation into it of what he had endeavoured to exclude — that it was the design of the Bill to abolish those duties which were now performed by the Controller of the Exchequer. That had been assumed by the noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu), by his hon. Friend opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote), and by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Francis Baring). Now, he had stated, as clearly as he could, that that was not the intention of the Bill. He said in express terms that all the duties of the Controller of the Exchequer should continue to be performed precisely as they were now performed, until Parliament had had the opportunity of considering the question. He had asked for power to prevent the neces- 303 sity of maintaining offices useless to the country, due provision being made for the performance of necessary duties. But of all classes of men politicians were by far the most suspicious; they sometimes, however, outwitted themselves, and fell into error by their over suspicion and determination to see motives which did not exist. He did not say a word in disparagement of Exchequer control; but if he were asked his opinion, he would say this, that Exchequer control had become inefficient, anomalous, and unreal to a very great degree. Whether it should be, however, entirely abolished or modified was a question of great importance and delicacy, which he had not examined with that coolness and precision which would enable him to come to a positive conclusion upon it. His desire was that these separate duties should be maintained as at present, and with the fullest liberty on the part of Parliament to extend these duties by restoring the efficiency of the Exchequer control. It appeared to him that the practical differences between himself and those who had taken part in the debate were very small. He differed from his right hon. Friend (Sir Francis Baring) on one point, for he was fully convinced that the duties of Exchequer control were not duties sufficient in themselves to occupy the time of a public officer. It was, therefore, he thought, the duty of Parliament to remove the anomaly of what approached to be a sinecure. Nor would he admit the doctrine that had been urged of incompatibility of function in these two offices. He would repeat what he had before stated, that if there should be a desire on the part of the House to reserve its ultimate decision upon the union of these offices he had no objection. The only object he had was the practical one of laying the foundation of an improvement which would be permanently effected if Parliament should approve a reduction of useless and unnecessary offices. One suggestion would be met by altering the first two lines of the first clause, "on the occurrence of a vacancy in the said office," and substituting the words, "on the occurrence of the next vacancy in the office of Controller General." In the third clause the words "for the time being" might be struck out, and he would not object to the insertion of the words proposed by the noble Lord at the end of the clause. He could not agree to the omission of the second clause. The proper way would be to introduce some 304 words making provision for the performance of all the duties that were now discharged, and he would not say more than that he did not think the performance of these duties required the maintenance of the Exchequer establishment as it now stood. The hon. Baronet (Sir George Bowyer) appeared to think that the tenure upon which the Chairman of the Board of Audit held his office — quam diu se bene gesserit —was a weaker tenure than that of the Controller General, who was only removable upon an address by both Houses of Parliament. Practically, there was a difference between the two, but the union of these two offices would be a reason for placing the tenure of both on the same footing, and the recommendation of the Select Committee that the Chairman of the Board of Audit should be considered to hold one of the first positions in the Civil Service was a reason for raising, not only his salary but his office, to the highest position of dignity and independence. The only subject he felt justified in pressing upon Parliament at the present time was the practical one of laying the foundation of an improvement which could be made permanent if Parliament should think fit— that, namely, of effecting one of the plainest duties of a person in his position—the relieving the public from the burden of an unnecessary expense. Some of the suggestions thrown out he should take into consideration. Though he could not say that the Bill would be productive of immediate economy, yet its tendency was towards economy. The notion that this Bill entailed an additional charge of £500 upon the public was entirely without foundation. He begged to disclaim any intention of questioning the motives of the noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu).
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.