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THE EXECUTIVE OF TO-DAY.
§ 80. The Working of Government Departments. The Cabinet is the supreme motive power of the modern Executive, but only the most important questions of general policy come before it. All details connected with the working out of such policies and all routine business is left to the various departments of State. At the head of each of these is placed a member of the Government, who is responsible for everything done or omitted by the department over which he has control. In most of these departments there is an under-secretary, who is also a member of the Government. It is usual for one of these two Ministers to be chosen from the Lords and the other from the Commons, in order that there may be some person in each House competent to answer queries with regard to the work of the department. Both representatives, however, of the Home Office, the Board of Trade, and the Local Government Board are now in the House of Commons.
Besides these parliamentary heads of departments there are a number of permanent officials and a clerical staff. It is probable that when anyone is first appointed to the headship of one of these government offices he has no experience and very little idea of what is necessary. His time is also occupied by his other parliamentary duties. It is therefore necessary that there should be these permanent officials, on whom the parliamentary head may rely, and who preserve the continuity of the administrative
work of the various offices. Indeed to a large extent they direct the executive machinery of the country, but, while they are responsible to their parliamentary head, the latter is the person who is responsible to Parliament, and thus to the nation, for the due administration of its affairs.
§ 81. The Civil Service is the name given to the class of appointments which are filled by the permanent staff of the various departments. The majority of these appointments are held by persons who in the first instance enter the service under a system of competitive examinations of varying severity. The higher posts are usually filled by promotion from the lower. The examination system, however, is not quite universal, especially in the Foreign Office, while appointments to the very highest posts are sometimes made from outside sources. Civil servants enjoy the advantages of fixed, rising and for the most part adequate salaries, with the practical certainty of continuity of employment on good behaviour. An added advantage is the grant of a pension on retiring. Against this must be put the fact that employment in the Civil Service is a bar to election for Parliament. The number of civil servants tends to increase, and the voting power which they could exercise in combination might form a serious source of danger to public administration and economy. Thus they might by their votes secure the election of those who would support their desire for greater pay or easier conditions. Any great increase of the number of civil, or indeed of municipal, servants is therefore to be deprecated.
§ 82. The Departments.-As has already been seen, there are five principal Secretaries of State, viz. those for the Home Department, for Foreign Affairs, for the Colonies, for War and for India. This does not, however, by any means exhaust the list of the principal executive officers.
The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and his Chief Secretary are responsible for Irish Affairs, while Scotch affairs are in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate of Scotland. The Presidents of the Boards of Trade, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Education, and of the Local Government Board are responsible for the work falling under the heads of those departments. The First Lord of the Admiralty is concerned with the navy, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the principal Minister in charge of the revenue, although the First Lord of the Treasury has certain duties in this respect. The Postmaster-General administers the Post Office, while the First Commissioner of Works has charge over Government works, public buildings, and royal parks. The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland are the heads of the Judiciary in the two islands respectively, while the actual legal work of the Government is in the hands of the Attorney-General and the SolicitorGeneral.
Besides the above there are a few official posts with little or no work attached to them. These are usually held by members of the Government whose advice is desired in the Cabinet, but who from age or other reasons are unable to undergo the strain of looking after an important administrative office. If they are members of the Cabinet, it is desirable that they should have some salaried office, in order that their conduct may the more easily be criticised in the House of Commons on the vote for that office. The principal of these sinecures are the offices of Lord Privy Seal, Lord President of the Council, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
In the following pages an attempt will be made to describe briefly the duties of the various ministers mentioned above. The subjects of the defence of the realm
and the revenue, which need somewhat more elaborate treatment, will for the sake of convenience of arrangement be treated by themselves in the next chapter. A further chapter will be devoted to the consideration of the relations of Scotland and Ireland to England. The account of the duties of the Secretaries of State for the Colonies and for India will be found in Part VI., which deals with the Imperial relations of the United Kingdom.
§ 83. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, or, as he is better known, the Home Secretary, has many and varied duties. In point of precedence he is the first of His Majesty's five principal Secretaries of State, and as such is the official means of communication between the King and his subjects. As in the case of the other Secretaries his appointment is evidenced by no document, but dates from the delivery to him of three seals by the Sovereign. These seals bear the royal arms, and are used to authenticate documents issuing from the offices of the various Ministers.
It is the duty of the Secretaries of State to countersign documents bearing the sign manual, i.e. the signature of the Sovereign. In this way they become responsible for the orders contained in such documents. These documents, such as warrants, appointments and licences, are very numerous, and except where the matters in question clearly come within the province of one of the other Secretaries it falls to the lot of the Home Secretary to complete their validity by countersigning. He must then communicate them to the necessary parties. He receives addresses and petitions intended for the Sovereign, and gives notice of important matters of State intelligence such as treaties and royal births and deaths. He is also the official channel of communication between the Crown and the Church and suggests appointments to vacant benefices.
§ 84. The Duties of the Home Secretary are largely concerned with the administration of justice and the maintenance of order. The police of the Metropolis, with the exception of the city police, are entirely under his control and he appoints the necessary officers. For the rest of the country he appoints inspectors on whose satisfactory report depends the receipt by local authorities of their share of the police grant from the central Exchequer.
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The appointments of recorders and stipendiary magistrates are made by the Home Secretary, as those of the public prosecutor and his staff. siders claims made by a subject against the Crown, which are known as petitions of right, and determines whether proceedings may be taken in support of them in the ordinary courts.
He is responsible for all prisons, and has full control over them, their staff, and the prisoners. Tickets of leave are issued by him and may be revoked. He may also order the discharge on recovery of criminal lunatics who are detained during "His Majesty's pleasure." In 1908 the power of making rules for Probation Officers was added to his duties. Over reformatories, industrial schools, and inebriate homes he has full powers of regulation and inspection. Generally, therefore, it may be said that he is responsible for the welfare of all prisoners in the kingdom and for the manner in which their sentences are carried out. The prerogative of mercy is exercised by the Crown on his advice. Thus a sentence of death may be commuted to penal servitude for life, a term of imprisonment shortened or an offender pardoned altogether. But a pardon can only be granted for an offence of a public character, and only after the offence has been committed: it must not affect private rights.
The Home Secretary is responsible for the administration