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Conduct of Wellington in 1846. 349
'is not a principle of the English Constitution. To be 'prepared to serve a Sovereign without any reference 'to the policy to be pursued, or even in violation of the 'convictions of the servant, is not the duty of the sub'ject of a Monarchy modified in its operation by the 'co-ordinate authority of Estates of the Eealm. It is 'in direct violation of the Parliamentary Constitution 'of England, and is a principle which can only be prac'tically carried into effect in the cabinets of absolute 'monarchs.'1
And again, on page 229:—
'After a discussion of three nights, closed by the 'Duke of Wellington in a speech in which he informed 'the House of Lords that "the Bill for the Repeal of '" the Corn Laws had already been agreed to by the '"other two branches of the Legislature," and that 'under these circumstances "there was an end of the '"functions of the House of Lords," and that they had 'only to comply with the projects sent up to them,—a 'sentiment the full bearing of which seems not easy to 'distinguish from the vote of the Long Parliament 'which openly abrogated those functions,—the Lords 'passed a second reading of the measure by the large 'majority of forty-seven.'
In a later passage of the same work (p. 390) Mr. Disraeli gives his views as to the duties of Sir Robert Peel himself, on the assumption, as was above noticed, that he himself personally acquiesced in the wisdom of the decision of the House of Commons.
'But this false position, which has strained and in'jured our happy Parliamentary government, is not
1 Mr. Disraeli's Life of Lord George Bentinclt, pp. 61, 63.
'attributable to the Whigs, but rather to that states'man, who, with all his great qualities, seems never to 'have been conscious that the first duty of an English 'Minister is to be faithful to his party, and that good * and honourable government in this country is not only 'consistent with that tie, but in reality mainly de'pendent upon its sacred observance.'1
These extracts are of course not inserted here in order to give any weight to doctrines which at the best are asserted in far too unqualified a form to render them of any constitutional import, and which Lord Beaconsfield himself would undoubtedly express in a very different and far more balanced form at this day, but because they put in a clear shape the real problems which lie before the head of a Government when the recognised policy of his party is persistently outvoted in the House of Commons, and when the difficulty is further increased by his own acquiescence in the justice of that vote. It is not the Sovereign, nor either House of Parliament, which alone can be taken as affording by its known wishes or prejudices a practical guide to a Minister in such an emergency. He must consider whether, on the whole, the country, as represented in Parliament,—or perhaps as capable of being represented by a newly-elected Parliament,—has or has not determined on a particular course of policy. If it is believed that the country has determined upon such a course, the next question is, whether the existing Government acquiesces so far in the wisdom of the policy as to continue to sustain its natural and confidential relations with Parliament in the course of carrying the policy
1 Life of Lord George Bentinclt, by Benjamin Disraeli, M.P., pp. 61, 68; 229; 390.
Party A lleg iance of Ministers. 351
into practical effect. The Government may treat the policy either as advantageous, or as vicious, or as indifferent enough to be an insignificant item in their conduct. In the first and last of these cases the Government might, so far as Parliament is concerned, honestly retain their places. So far as their own party is concerned, in and out of Parliament, it may perhaps be said that they should afford that party an opportunity of choosing fresh and more exact representatives if they themselves have, through a change of opinion, swerved from the programme with which they came into office. In the second case, where the policy supported by Parliament is decisively repudiated by the Government, no justification can be admitted for their retaining office a single day. The uses and limits of the allegiance of a Government to its party are well expressed in the following passage from Lord Grey's 'Parliamentary Reform':—
'What particularly distinguishes our present system 'of government, and constitutes, as I have endeavoured 'to show, some of its main advantages, is the respon'sibility which it imposes, both on Parliament and on 'the Servants of the Crown. Every Member of the 'House of Commons feels, or ought to feel, that it is a 'serious step to give a vote which may compel the 'existing Government to retire, without a reasonable 'prospect that another better able to conduct the affairs 'of the country can be formed. The Ministers, on the 'other hand, know that they are not held to be absolved 'from responsibility for unwise measures, because they 'have been forced upon them by the House of Commons; 'but that if they continue to administer the affairs of 'the country when powers they think necessary have 'been refused, or a course they disapprove has, in spite 'of their advice, been adopted by the House, they are 'justly held answerable for the policy of which they 'consent to be the instruments. But if it should ever 'come to be regarded as not being wrong, that Ministers 'should retain office though they were no longer able 'to guide the proceedings of the House of Commons, 'there would cease to be in any quarter an effective 'responsibility for the prudence and judgment with 'which the affairs of the nation are conducted in Par'liament. Ministers could not be held answerable for 'the conduct of a Parliament they had no power to 'direct, and the only responsibility left would be that 'of the House collectively. Experience, as I have 'already remarked, proves, that a responsibility shared 'amongst so many is really felt by none; and that a 'popular assembly, which will not submit to follow the 'guidance of some leader, is ever uncertain in its con'duct and unstable in its decisions. After the Eevolu'tion of 1688, when the House of Commons had by 'that event acquired great power, and had not yet been 'brought under the discipline of our present system, 'these evils were grievously felt. They would be far 'more so in the present state of society, and we must 'expect to see the House of Commons arriving at many 'hasty and ill-judged decisions, and its members giving 'their votes much oftener than they now do contrary 'to their judgment in deference to public clamour, if 'they were relieved from the apprehension of creating 'the difficulties that arise from a change of Govern'ment. Those who have watched the proceedings of 'Parliament cannot be ignorant how many unwise votes 'have been prevented by the dread of the resignation Control of Policy through Finance. 353
'of Ministers, and that the most effective check on 'factious conduct on the part of the Opposition, is the 'fear entertained by its leaders of driving the Govern'ment to resign on a question upon which, if they 'should themselves succeed to power, they would find 'insuperable difficulties in acting differently from their 'predecessors.'1
In tracing the modes by which Parliament exercises its right of restriction and control of the acts of the Government, it is not necessary to do more than allude to the effective method which is always at hand and which is largely resorted to in Continental and Colonial Legislatures,—that of refusing or delaying the monetary supplies which are needed to carry out the general policy of the Government, or particular parts of that policy. The only reason why this somewhat rough method is at present little used in England is that all the other methods already enumerated are less coarse, more flexible, and abundantly effective. Nevertheless, the recognised right of control of expenditure possessed by the House of Commons is not only serviceable for the purpose of securing economy and publicity in the management of the public purse, but affords one of the most available openings for criticising minute details of ministerial management, and bringing the conduct of the Government, in the smallest matters as well as in the greatest, under the eye of the public, and into the most exact attainable harmony with the requirements of Parliament.
But the reciprocity of action between Parliament and the Government is maintained, not only by the
1 Parliamentary Government considered mth reference to Reform. By Earl Grey. P. 102.