4 MAY 1850, Page 10


ALTHOUGH nice critics are dissatisfied with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's plan of savings-bank reform, it is really a good mea- sure; it will place the system of savings-banks on a much more rational footing, and will enable the industrious classes to effect a great deal more for themselves. Few institutions have borne, in the riper stages of development, so strong traces of their early origin ; few have illustrated so strongly the fallacy of the Laissez- faire doctrine. Beginning with the conspiracy of half-a-dozen benevolent men to guarantee the saving to the extent of 600/. among members of the working classes, and to encourage parsimony by a fixed rate of interest, the savings-banks to the last retained those traces of crudity—a bonus and a practically optional liability ; although by this time the sums involved, in the ag- gregate, amount to not less than 28,000,0001. The principal improvements introduced by Sir Charles Wood's bill are apposite. The bill proposes to restore the liability of the trustees; to afford the security of a Government guarantee ; to lower the rate of interest; and to vest the appointment of the re- oeiving-officer in the Government; other officers of banks to be held guilty of a misdemeanour if they receive money, and the de- positor to forfeit his security in respect of monies paid to any but the authorized officer. The trustees had been expressly relieved of personal liability by a comparatively recent act; and hence the gross laxity with which they have permitted officers of savings- banks to -embezzle money—almost openly, for in some cases fla- grant extravapmee of living might have suggested to any careful mind a suspicion of malversation. Considering the national cha- racter of the banks some public guarantee is only proper; and that of the Government appears to be the best. The appointment of the receiving-officer is the correlative of that concession. But one does not see why, in a public • building, such as the savings-bank will henceforward be deemed, if it is not so already, the depositor should be charged with the liability of discovering the proper of- fioer : the correct taking of the money ought to be a matter of in- ternal discipline the depositor having to look no further than the correctness of the voucher. Still, the measure even as it stands, without amendment in Committee will place the savings-bank on a fooling much more intelligible le the public ; will restore the shattered confidence in the bank; and will renew the useful im- pulse to be provident in a numerous and increasing class. So far the alteration is justified by common sense and common justice.

Indeed, one does not see why its provisions should not have been carried much further in a similar direction. Common sense and justice would have dictated, not only a prospective but a re- trospective guarantee to depositors. Government has not only implicated itself in savings-bank affairs, by using at a pinch the monies deposited, but, in spite of some technical reserves, has not scrupled before to assume the appearance of a connexion with the banks : it has made the banks apparently official institutions, and has actually used the monies for its own convenience : it ought therefore to justify the faith of the depositors thus encouraged. Having abolished he bonus of an excessive interest, it is not clearly necessary to retain the restriction on the amount of deposits. It is true that the savings-bank has been used by other classes besides those for which it was designed ; but before that fact can be held to condemn the practical extension of the institution, it might be proper to show that the depositors are persons who ought not to save equally with a working man, that they possess bang faci- lities for the custody of such sums as they can muster, that the habit of providence is not to be encouraged in them equally with the working classes aforesaid, and that any sort of inconvenience can accrue from their being permitted to use the bank. It would be very difficult to establish these points.

On the other hand, were the Government to take the lead in de- veloping the institution to its utmost, much would be done in the only direction that seems at present open to official enterprise—in proving to the public the practical and increasing utility of the Government. Why halt short of completeness ? Is it the fear that completeness is an " extreme " thing; that perfection is an aspiration which signifies impiety in the human creature ; or that to stop half way, in "middle course," is accounted" safe " ? For no other apparent reason does Sir Charles Wood halt in the thorough application of his own principles to savings-banks : hence he has produced a measure with much good in it, but one that in

suggests the want of a better.