TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE NEW EXCHEQUER.
Two years ago, the Commissioners appointed to investigate the Public Accounts o(England, with Sir HENRY PARNELL for their Chairman, made a thorough exposure of the great Exchequer job. Their Report strenuously urged the abolition of the complex, in-• efficient, and needlessly expensive system by which the Exche-• quer-office professed to check the money transactions of the other departments of the State. Their recommendation has hitherto been neglected : the office still exists, in all its plenitude of ab- surdity an abuse. The real business is now, as then, transacted by Bank of England clerks; while the bevy of sinecure officials continues as usual to pocket their quarterly cash. It may be ne- cessary to remind some of our readers, that of the sum total of 49,4771. paid annually to the Exchequer gentlemen, 20,900/. is paid to those who do literally nothing, and those who do next to nothing for it—to the Auditor, Tellers, Heads of Departments, and . Money-Porters ; while those who really have some duties to per- form—who attend four or five hours each day for about two thirds of the year—are enormously overpaid.
The Commissioners, in order riot merely to make a saving of the public money, but to provide a real and substantial check upon the .Treasury expenditure, recommended that the existing system should be swept away : and a new office established at about one tenth the expense of the old one. The following is their estimate of the cost of the New Exchequer.
One Comptroller-General, with a salary of
£2,000 One Deputy Comptroller-General .
1,000 One Chief Clerk £800
Two Sub-Clerks, at £200
Two Auxiliary Clerks, at £120
Two Sub-Auxiliary Clerks, at £80 160
The business of the office would be to check the drafts of the Treasury by the Estimates, and to guard against any department exceeding its credit, by refusing to order the payment of more money than Parliament had voted fbr its use. The taxes would be paid to the Bank of England, to the credit of the Comptroller- General ; who would transfer to the credit of each department the amount appropriated to it by the Estimates, in such sums and at such times as the Lords of the Treasury should direct : it would not be necessary for him to draw out a single shilling. Were the business of the office conducted systematically and simply, it Would be found that the Commissioners have been extremely libe- ral in their allowance of clerks ; and if it be true, as their Chair- man asserted in his excellent work on Financial Reform, " that high salaries actually contribute to make the clerks less efficient:- then it would also appear that these salaries are unnecessarily high. This was our opinion, when, two years ago (in Numbers .179 and 180 of the Spectator), we entered very fully info an ex- amination of this subject ; and we have not since seen any reason to change it. We then proposed the following scheme, in the place of the one put forth in the Report; and assigned our reasons for the difference.
One Comptroller .£ 800 One Chief Clerk, at a salary rising from 4001. to 600/. per an- num, average 500 One Second Clerk, at a salary rising from 2001. to 4001. per an- num, average i 300 One Third Clerk, at a salary rising from 100/. to 2001. per an-
num, average 150
- One Messenger 50
Total cost of new Establishment 1,800
It is not on the principle of saving merely, that we recommend a rate of remuneration so much lower than the Commission ; but because we have no doubt of the truth of Sir HENRY Paersenes doctrine,-that "when a clerk has a high salary, the less is his activity, and he is wholly averse to an thing like the drudgery ofoffice." Of course he is : if a man's income is such as to place a high style of living in his reach, how can we expect him to be a "bird-Working man of business ? Yet such the public requires, and ought to have. We presume that no person of common infor- mation will deny, that hundreds of men, of indisputable honesty, -good education, and sufficient talent, are to be had, by whom such salaries as we have indicated would be eagerly sought after and gratefully accepted. Supposing, however, that we take the Report for our guide AS regards the salaries of the officers of the proposed New Ex- chequer, the prospective annual. saving would still be upwards .of 40,000/. We say the prospective saving; for the Commissioners are not prepared to " recommend that so many officers should be 'reduced without due consideration of their past services and pre- sent claims." In other words, they would pension off the present sinecurists. To this we entirely object. We objected to the pro- position at the time it was made; and appealed from the Chair- man of the Commissioners and author of their Report, to the au- thor of Financial Reform; who maintained that " it was quite im- possible to explain. why we are to have a privileged class, who, because they have once touched the public money, are to be sup- . ported ever after at the public expense." There is no occasion to discuss the general question of allowing Superannuations to public servants. Their right to such, in all -eases, we deny : that it may be wise or generous to allow them in some instances, is very possible : but as regards the present holders of the sinecure offices in the Exchequer, the claim to compensation on account of past services, or as a matter of right, is monstrous. The Marquis CAMDEN, Earl BATHURST, Mr. SPENCER PERCEVAL, and Mr. CHARLES YORKE, as Tellers, and Lord GRENVILLE as Auditor of the Exchequer, have received nearly one million three hundred thousand pounds of the public money. The offices of .the first four are, strictly speaking, sinecures—the holders never do any thing but sign the receipts for their salaries. The office of Auditor is nearly as much so : its duties are such that old Lord GRENVILLE can perform them now as well as ever. Yet, merely because these persons have received such vast sums already, it is proposed that they should be compensated for the loss of their offices, at the expense of the people of England—pensioned off like old worn-out and maimed veterans—till they are gathered to their fathers. It is impossible to imagine a job more gross and rank than this would be.
The Report of the Commissioners made its appearance when the nation was engaged in the determined struggle for Parliamentary Reform. The success of its efforts, it was fondly hoped, would have led to the speedy abolition of such nuisances as the Exche- quer job. It is true that these just expectations have been disap- pointed : but in the next session, as we are willing to be persuaded, both Ministers and the House of Commons will turn over a new leaf.
There is no probability of Lord GRENVILLE living through the winter; even while we are writing, he may have breathed his last.. Attention is therefore naturally directed to the circumstances in which Ministers will be placed by his decease. It will af- ford them an opportunity of redeeming one of their promises to govern without patronage, to make all practicable savings, and abolish all useless offices as expeditiously as possible. It may be said, that under the present system it is necessary to have an Au- ditor of the Exchequer. It is so—but why preserve the present system, of which the .Auditorship, though bad enough, is not the worst part ? Ministers, as we have once before suggested, may fol- low Lord BROUGHAM'S example, and appoint a new Auditor upon Lord GRENVILLE'S death, who should hold the office only until some new arrangement is made ; and there is no earthly reason why that arrangement should not be made in the coming session.