Objection is often also taken to the constitution of the Committee of Treasury. That body is composed of the Governor and Deputy-Governor and all the directors who have held those offices; but as those offices in the main pass in rotation, this mode of election very much comes to an election by seniority, and there are obvious objections to giving, not only a preponderance to age, but a monopoly to age. In some cases, indeed, this monopoly I believe has already been infringed. When directors have on account of the magnitude of their transactions, and the consequent engrossing nature of their business, declined to fill the chair, in some cases they have been asked to be members of the Committee of Treasury notwithstanding. And it would certainly upon principle seem wiser to choose a committee which for some purposes approximates to a committee of management by competence rather than by seniority.
An objection is also taken to the large number of Bank directors. There are twenty-four directors, a Governor and a Deputy-Governor, making a total court of twenty-six persons, which is obviously too large for the real discussion of any difficult business. And the case is worse because the court only meets once a week, and only sits a very short time. It has been said, with exaggeration, but not without a basis of truth, that if the Bank directors were to sit for four hours, there would be ‘a panic solely from that.’ ‘The court,’ says Mr. Tooke, ’meets at half-past eleven or twelve; and, if the sitting be prolonged beyond half-past one, the Stock Exchange and the money market become excited, under the idea that a change of importance is under discussion; and persons congregate about the doors of the Bank parlour to obtain the earliest intimation of the decision.’ And he proceeds to conjecture that the knowledge of the impatience without must cause haste, if not impatience, within. That the decisions of such a court should be of incalculable importance is plainly very strange.
There should be no delicacy as to altering the constitution of the Bank of England. The existing constitution was framed in times that have passed away, and was intended to be used for purposes very different from the present. The founders may have considered that it would lend money to the Government, that it would keep the money of the Government, that it would issue notes payable to bearer, but that it would keep the ‘Banking reserve’ of a great nation no one in the seventeenth century imagined. And when the use to which we are putting an old thing is a new use, in common sense we should think whether the old thing is quite fit for the use to which we are setting it. ‘Putting new wine into old bottles’ is safe only when you watch the condition of the bottle, and adapt its structure most carefully.
The Joint Stock Banks.