HL Deb 22 April 1834 vol 22 cc1083-7
Earl Grey

, in moving that the House resolve itself into a Committee on the Exchequer Receipt Bill, observed, that it was a measure which proceeded from two Reports made by the Commissioners who had been appointed in 1830 and 1831, to inquire and examine into the practice of the Ex- chequer, with respect to the receipt and payment of the Public Money, and the mode of keeping the accounts thereof. The object of the appointment of those Commissions was, to introduce greater simplicity into the mode of keeping the Exchequer Accounts, to regulate more effectually the business of the Exchequer, and at the same time to establish an efficient and proper control. Along with these objects was combined that of producing a considerable saving in this branch of the Government. Such being the objects sought to be obtained he could not anticipate any opposition to the measure. In conformity with the recommendation of the two Commissions to which he had referred, it was proposed by this Bill to abolish the offices of Auditor, of the Four Tellers of the Exchequer, of the Clerk of the Pells, and the several offices subordinate thereto, and in lieu of them to appoint a Comptroller-General, an Assistant Comptroller, a Chief Clerk, and as many clerks and assistants as the Commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury might deem necessary. The next point was, to introduce greater simplicity in the mode of making up the accounts, and to effect a considerable saving. With that view it was proposed that all the cumbersome and antiquated machinery of the office should be abolished, and that a system of a more modern nature should be substituted. He was not aware that under the old plan any fraud had been committed, or that the public had sustained any loss; but, while under the new system the security would be found equally good, it would be found to possess greater simplicity and efficiency. The Accounts would, therefore, in future, be kept according to the modern practice, and all that circuitous mode of doing business, by which money was first sent to the Exchequer and from thence into the Bank, would be done away; the revenue would at once, under the new system, be sent to the Bank, and being so paid, should be placed to the credit of his Majesty's Exchequer, and form one account in the Bank Books. It was provided that the money being so placed in the Bank, should only be extracted thence by his Majesty's Royal Order, under the Royal Sign-Manual, to be countersigned by the Commissioners of the Treasury. The sums necessary for the public service were to be thus drawn out as they might be wanted; but in all cases a reference should be made to the particular Vote or Act of Parliament by which such an issue of the Public Money was authorized. By this course, simplicity in keeping the Accounts would be united with the most effectual control. Another clause of the Bill provided for the payment of salaries, allowances, and other charges hitherto payable in detail at the Exchequer. These payments were to be made by a Paymaster, to be appointed by the Commissioners of the Treasury, with such a number of Clerks as the Commissioners should deem requisite. The Paymaster of the Treasury, it was provided, should be invested with the same authority as the Paymaster of the Army or Navy exercised now. With reference to the pecuniary saving which would be effected by the measure, he must observe, that the present establishment of the Exchequer consisted of sixty-five officers, and the annual expenditure amounted to 41,000l.; whereas, under the new system, the number of persons employed would be only twenty-nine, and the cost of the Establishment would not exceed 11,000l.; a reduction of thirty-six persons in the number employed, and of 30,000l. in the expenditure, being thus effected. This, it must be admitted, was a satisfactory change; but he did not propose it so much on the ground of economical advantage, great as that must be admitted to be, as upon the principle of bringing about an important improvement in the management of the Exchequer. It was desirable that an officer such as the Comptroller-General should be independent of the Treasury; accordingly his appointment would be for life, removable only upon a Parliamentary Address to the Crown. The assistant who would supply the place of the Comptroller in the event of occasional absence was to be appointed during pleasure, and his salary would be annually voted by the House of Commons; so as to obviate any apprehension of the Comptrollership being rendered a sinecure office. If it were attempted to transfer the duties of Comptroller to his Assistant, Parliament would thus possess an effectual check upon the abuse by having the payment of the Assistant in its own hands. With respect to the offices abolished by the Bill, it was not an act of bounty, but one of mere justice, to provide for the two Tellers of the Exchequer, who held their places by patent. This being the case, they were to receive the amount of their salaries for life. After those two Gentlemen (Earl Bathurst and Mr. Spencer Perceval) only one Teller remained (Marquess Camden), the fourth (Mr. Yorke) having recently died. With respect to the Marquess Camden it had been thought right to introduce a particular provision into the Bill. Their Lordships would all recollect the generous sacrifice which the noble Marquess had made of the whole surplus profits of his office beyond the amount fixed by the new regulation which took place a few years ago, although the noble Lord had as good a right to receive the whole sum unabated as any Peer possessed to his estate. The amount which the public had saved in consequence of this act of the noble Marquess was 244,000l. Under these circumstances, it was thought right to record this signal instance of liberality, and secure to the Marquess Camden for life the whole right which he now had to the property of his office, trusting he would continue to pursue the same conduct as hitherto, but leaving the matter entirely to himself. With respect to subordinate offices, it was left to the Treasury to make such arrangements as might be deemed necessary. He must advert to one omission in the Bill: no provision had been made in consequence of the death of Mr. Yorke, by whose demise one of the Tellerships became vacant, together with all the subordinate offices belonging to it. In this case, there being no new Teller appointed, the money which was in Mr. Yorke's chest (about 30,000l.) could not be taken out, and the persons employed under him were now, strictly speaking, no longer considered as being upon the Establishment of the Exchequer, and, therefore, would not be entitled to be provided for under this Bill. But it would be an act of great injustice to take advantage of this circumstance to deprive those individuals of compensation. A particular provision in their favour could not now be introduced into the Bill consistently with the privileges claimed by the other House of Parliament. This was a fair occasion for exercising the power of the Crown to appoint another Teller of the Exchequer, whose office should cease as soon as the Bill had passed into a law. The consequence of a new appointment would be to revive the office, and to remove all difficulty with respect to the Clerks and the money now locked up from the public. The Clerk of the Pells possessed the same interest in his office as the Tellers, it being also an office for life. It was unnecessary to dwell upon the valuable services of the Gentleman who held that situation; they were well known, and had been displayed in different departments, and were of a character to entitle him, independently of his legal claim, to compensation for life to the full amount of the salary which he now enjoyed as Clerk of the Pells. As he was satisfied that the principle of the measure was good, and as it merely followed up the recommendations which had received the sanction of former Governments for the improvement of the Exchequer, he trusted it would receive their Lordships' concurrence.

The House went into a Committee, and having agreed to the several clauses of the Bill, resumed.