Page images

Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the absence of the Lord Chancellor, has to preside and to deliver a charge to the pyx jury. When the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer is vacant, the seals of it are delivered to the Chief-Justice of the King's Bench for the time being, so that there may be no interruption in sealing writs, which issue daily from the Court of Exchequer. Thus, in 1757, Lord Mansfield continued nominally Finance Minister for three months; and, in 1834, Lord Chief-Justice Denman held the office for eight days. As a leading member of the Treasury Board, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has much influence in the disposal of the patronage belonging to it. I shall describe the duties of the Junior Lords of the Treasury and Joint Secretaries when I describe those officials of the Administration who are not Privy Councillors.

The Secretaries of State are the next most important officials* in a Ministry. The ancient English monarchs were always attended by a learned ecclesiastic, known at first as their clerk, and afterwards as secretary, who conducted the royal correspondence; but it was not till the end of the reign of

* They rank before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but for convenience sake I have included the duties of the Chancellor in my account of the Treasury.

[merged small][ocr errors]

Queen Elizabeth that these functionaries were called Secretaries of State. On the direction of public affairs passing from the Privy Council to the Cabinet after 1688, the Secretary of State began to assume those high duties which now render his office one of the most important in the Government. Up to the reign of Henry VIII. there was generally only one Secretary of State, but at the latter end of his reign a second Principal Secretary was appointed. In 1708 a third Secretary was created, owing to the increase of business consequent upon the Union of Scotland. But a vacancy occurring in this office in 1746, the third secretaryship was dispensed with till 1768, when it was again created to take charge of the increasing colonial business. In 1782 the office was again abolished, and the charge of the colonies transferred to the Home Secretary; but owing to the war with France in 1794, a third Secretary was once more appointed to take charge of the War Department, and in 1801 the colonial business was attached to his department. In 1854 a fourth Secretary of State for the exclusive charge of the War Department, and in 1858 a fifth secretaryship for India, were created, so that there are now five Principal Secretaries of State, four of whom, with their political under-secretaries, occupy seats

in the House of Commons. One of the five Secretaries of State is always a member of the House of Lords. These Principal Secretaries have the sole control of the business of their respective offices— subject, of course, to the general superintendence of the Cabinet. They are the only authorised channels whereby the royal pleasure is signified to any part of the body politic, and the counter-signature of one of them is necessary to give validity to the sign-manual; so that while the personal immunity of the Sovereign is secured, a responsible adviser for every act is provided, who has to answer for what the Crown has done. Whatever be the number of the Secretaries of State, they constitute but one office, and are co-ordinate in rank and equal in authority. Each is competent in general to execute any part of the duties of the Secretary of State, the division of duties being a mere matter of arrangement. A Secretary of State is appointed directly by the Crown by letters - patent, and is removable at the royal pleasure. He receives his investiture by the delivery of the seals of office from the hand of the Queen in Council, and his appointment is formally terminated by the return of the seals to the Sovereign's hands. These seals are three in number—viz., the Signet, which contains


the royal arms and supporters; another seal of a smaller size, having an escutcheon of the King's arms only; and a still smaller seal, called the Cachet, which is similarly engraved. The Cachet is only used for sealing the Queen's letters to sovereign princes. The Secretaries of State have to be in personal attendance upon the Sovereign on all public ceremonies and state occasions. During her Majesty's visits to various parts of the kingdom, a Secretary of State is always in attendance on her, and it is a rule that one must be always present in London. These high officers are always Privy Councillors, and invariably have a seat in the Cabinet; and as Cabinet Ministers, it is necessary that they should sit in one or other of the Houses of Parliament. Let me now briefly sketch their various duties - The Home Secretary controls all matters relating to the internal affairs of Great Britain and Ireland. He maintains the internal peace of the United Kingdom, the security of the laws, and the general superintendence of the administration of criminal justice. He is responsible for the preservation of the public peace, and for the security of life and property throughout the kingdom. He is a magistrate, and can commit to prison

by warrant for just cause. He exercises extensive powers over the civil and military authorities of the country, and has a direct controlling power over the administration of justice and police in the municipal boroughs, over the police in and around London, and over the county constabulary. He commits for trial, and examines persons charged with offences against the State, and delivers to their respective Governments certain fugitive offenders from France, the United States, or the Colonies. In connection with the Privy Council, he superintends the means taken for the local improvement and the preservation of the public health in towns. He has the general oversight and ultimate control of all matters relating to prisons, penitentiaries, reformatories, criminals, and the administration of criminal justice; and he is especially responsible for the exercise of the royal prerogative in the reprieve or pardon of convicted offenders, or the commutation of their sentences. The Home Secretary receives all addresses to the Queen (except those presented at levees), and all memorials and petitions, upon which he takes the royal pleasure, and acts as the official channel of communication between her Majesty and her subjects. He prepares all royal warrants, grants, patents, approba

« PreviousContinue »