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Abolition of Army Purchase.
the Crown. According to this view, a rejection of the Bill by the Lords might be held either to amount to a want of confidence in the Government, or to a breach of the loyal trust which the different branches of the Constitution must practically be able to repose in one another. Again (2) the recognised, though rarely resorted to, practice of forcing the opinion of the Lords’ House by the multiplication of Peers, so often as the exigencies of the Government demand it, is a precedent which at least suggests that the Crown assumes to have a control over the votes of the Upper House of a kind which might well justify the use of a far less inconvenient and unpopular machinery. Nor is this practice of commanding the votes of the Lords in favour of the policy of the Crown by a large creation of Peers a less real part of the Constitution, because it has been resorted to, actually or by threat, only in seasons of great political discord, and discloses a feature of the Constitution which it is difficult to barmonise with the recognised independence of the different branches of the Legislature, and which, if it reappears in the future, will take more and more the character of a revolutionary act, and less and less that of an orderly constitutional process."
I See Hallam's discussion of the Peerage Bill, introduced by Sunderland under George I. for limiting the House of Lords, after a few more creations, to its actual numbers, carried with ease in the Upper House, but rejected by the Commons. In summing up the arguments pro and con in reference to the unlimited prerogative of augmenting the Peerage, Mr. Hallam says that while in the opinion of some, whether erroneous or not, the prerogative bas actually been exerted with too little discretion, the arguments against any legal limitation seem more decisive than the reasoning the other way. “The Crown has been carefully restrained by Statutes, and .by the responsibility of its advisers; the Commons, if they trans"gress their boundaries are annihilated by a proclamation; but
In these cursory remarks on the constitutional aspects of the controversy which arose out of the Royal Warrant for the Abolition of Purchase in the Army, it need scarcely be said that no argument is offered or involved as to the political expediency of the step in question, or as to what may be called the moral propriety of giving, through the medium of a fresh precedent, renewed weight to an already threatening advantage which the Executive Government has acquired over each House of Parliament, and especially over the House of Lords.
Some years afterwards, on May 13, 1879, Mr. Gladstone himself, in the course of a speech on another subject, incidentally and briefly gave an account of the transaction from his own point of view. In answer to some members who in the course of the current debate had severely condemned the exercise of the prerogative, he said: 'I have not the smallest objection to that con• demnation, if their minds lead them to that judgment Mr. Gladstone on Army Purchase.
(against the ambition, or, what is much more likely, the perverse • haughtiness of the aristocracy, the Constitution has not furnished • such direct securities. . . . It is true that the resource of subduing • an aristocratical faction by the creation of new peers could never • be constitutionally employed except in the case of a nearly equal • balance ; but it might usefully hang over the heads of the whole ·body, and deter them from any gross excesses of faction or oligar.
chical spirit.'-Hallam, Const. Hist.chap. xvi. See also Parliamentary History, vii. 589. The history of this Bill, and of the later exercise and threatened exercise of the prerogative in the matter, sufficiently proves the existence of the prerogative itself. Mr. Hallam does not seem to advert to the fact that, inasmuch as it is in effect the Go. vernment who create new peers, and the House of Commons who create the Government, the prerogative is rather a mark of the ascendency of the House of Commons over the House of Lords than an independent constitutional check on political extravagance on the part of the Lords.
• upon an important action taken at an important crisis. But I did not detect from the speeches of either or both gentlemen that they were in the slightest degree aware of the ground of that exercise of the prerogative. Now, the ground of that exercise of the prerogative was this—and it is necessary that • there should now be said what was said at the time, but apparently it has not found a place in the recollection
of either of them. The ground for the exercise of that • prerogative was this: It had been brought to the • knowledge not only of the Government, but of Parlia'ment and of the entire community, that there was
bound up with the working of the system of purchase ' a system of flagrant illegality-an illegality in many • instances mixed up with personal complications, but sat any rate an illegality of the nature and character
of which there was not the slightest doubt-an il• legality which was imbedded in the system of extra
regimental prices for commissions; and that system was inseparable from the system of purchase. It was " to put a stop to an illegality, and for no other purpose, that the prerogative of the Crown was exercised.'
As an interesting contrast to the view here presented of the circumstances and prospects of the House of Lords, a short extract may be inserted from a letter of Lord Macaulay's, when Member of Parliament for Leeds. The letter is dated from the House of Commons, June 6, 1833. Referring to a vote of censure on June 3, in reference to the Portuguese policy of the Ministry, carried by the Duke of Wellington in the Lords' House by a majority of 79 votes to 69, and in immediate anticipation of a counter-resolution which was carried in the Commons on the 6th (the date of the letter) by 361 votes to 98, Lord Macaulay writes as follows: “You know that the Lords have been foolish • enough to pass a vote implying censure on the Ministers. · The Ministers do not seem inclined to take it of them. • The King has snubbed their Lordships properly; and • in about an hour, as I guess (for it is near eleven), we • shall have come to a Resolution in direct opposition to that agreed to by the Upper House. Nobody seems
to care one straw for what the Peers say about any • public matter. A Resolution of the Court of Common • Council, or of a meeting at Freemasons' Hall, has often • made a greater sensation than this declaration of a • branch of the Legislature against the Executive • Government. The institution of the Peerage is evi• dently dying a natural death.'?
A further and more instructive contrast, because arising from events of later date and more momentous importance, is supplied by the conduct of the Duke of Wellington in 1846, at the close of the three nights' discussion in the House of Lords on the Repeal of the Corn Laws. The Duke said that “the Bill for the • Repeal of the Corn Laws had already been agreed to by • the other two branches of the Legislature;' that under these circumstances there was an end of the functions 6 of the House of Lords;' and that they had only to comply with the project sent up to them, “a sentiment,' says Lord Beaconsfield, in his “Life of Lord George • Bentinck,''the bearing of which seems not easy to dis
tinguish from the vote of the Long Parliament which • openly abrogated those functions.'?
Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, by G. O. Trevelyan, M.P., vol. i. p. 297.
? Life of Lord George Bentinck, p. 22o.
The House of Commons.
The modifications which have been made in the composition and quality of the House of Commons are of a far more distinct and unmistakable character than those just adverted to in the case of the Lords. These modifications are expressed in well-known Acts of Parliament, carried after long discussion in and out of the two Houses, and the operation of which has since been iucessantly and minutely scanned for purposes of political calculation or conjecture. The Reform Act of 1832 had for its object mainly the remedy of staring abuses, such as not even the most persistent stickler for adberence to the forms of the older English Constitution could honestly defend. The Act of 1867, and the tentative measures which prepared the way for it, though also directed to the remedying of abuses, were still more designed to bring the recognised Constitution into harmony with needs and occasions to which only very recent times had given birth.
Two principles have contended for supremacy in all attempts to reform the composition of the House of Commons; and the actual history of the country has exhibited a certain amount of deference to both principles simultaneously. One principle has been that of the representation of indefinite groups of the population, and the other that of the representation of individual persons. Bearing in mind the feudal history of county representation, and what may be called the municipal history of borough representation, and the history of the various special franchises which have grown out of these two, or side by side with them, it is well at once to dismiss the idea that in England it has ever been recognised as part of the Constitution that an