Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Surrender of Parliamentary Control. 359

violence to the Constitution, it can only be with the deliberate assent, express or implied, of the House of Commons.

2. The checks on the Government supplied by the mere fact of general responsibility to Parliament, and by the relations of confidence and courtesy which it has been seen now of necessity prevail as between the Government and the two Houses, especially the House of Commons, may not prove wholly adequate to prevent an extreme or unauthorised use of the Royal prerogative, or a gradual practice of trespassing on the claims of Parliament as asserted against the Royal prerogative, in case it happens that the Ministry are supported by a strong, united, and faithful majority in the House, and this majority happens, from some accidental reasons, or perhaps from mere temporary apathy, to prefer to show allegiance to the Government instead of conforming to the constitutional requirements of the House in the aggregate and of the country at large. Where a Government is thus supported, there is no legal limit, and it is difficult to find a moral or political limit, to the lengths they may go in asserting the most extreme, far-fetched, and even obsolete claims of the Royal prerogative; and it is always open to them and their legal adherents in both Houses to affix what interpretation they please on all doubtful points of law or practice. It is well known that the English Constitution, by its theory as legally expressed, confers almost exorbitant rights of initiative at least, and in large branches of business of direct executive action, on the Crown, as represented by its responsible Ministers. The following passage from the introduction prefixed to the edition of 1878 of Mr. Walter Bagehot's work on the English Constitution puts in a compendious form the extreme doctrine as it can alone be properly stated in legal textbooks :—

'I said in this book that it would very much sur'prise people if they were told how many things the 'Queen could do without consulting Parliament, and it 'certainly has so proved, for when the Queen abolished 'purchase in the Army by an act of prerogative (after 'the Lords had rejected the Bill for doing so,) there was 'a great and general astonishment. But this is nothing 'to what the Queen can by law do without consulting 'Parliament. Not to mention other things, she could 'disband the army (by law she cannot engage more than 'a certain number of men, but she is not obliged to 'engage any men;) she could dismiss all the officers, 'from the General Commanding-in-Chief downwards; 'she could dismiss all the sailors too; she could sell off 'all our ships of war and all our naval stores; she could 'make a peace by the sacrifice of Cornwall, and begin 'a war for the conquest of Brittany. She could make 'every citizen in the United Kingdom, male or female, 'a peer; she could make every parish in the United 'Kingdom a "university;" she could dismiss most of 'the civil servants; she could pardon all offenders. In 'a word, the Queen could by prerogative upset all the 'action of civil government within the realm, could 'disgrace the nation by a bad war or peace, and could, 'by disbanding our forces, whether land or sea, leave 'us defenceless against foreign nations.'1

It may be well to append to this extract another from Mr. Erskine May's 'Constitutional History,' in which

1 Tlic English Constitution. By Walter Bagehot. Introduction to the 2nd edition, p. xxxvi.

Added Powers of the Crown. 361

he, in his edition of 1871, takes a sanguine view of the real political influence of the Crown, while he attributes the advantages of this influence rather to the active vigilance of Parliament than to the extension of the influence itself.

'As the influence of the Crown constitutionally 'exercised has ceased to be regarded with jealousy, its 'continued enlargement has been watched by Parlia'ment without any of those efforts to restrain it which 'marked the Parliamentary history of the eighteenth * century. On the contrary, Parliament has met the 'increasing demands of a community rapidly advancing 'in population and wealth, by constant additions to the 'power and patronage of the Crown. The judicial 'establishments of the country have been extended by 'the appointment of more Judges in the superior 'Courts,—by a large staff of County Court Judges, 'with local jurisdiction,—and by numerous stipendiary 'magistrates. Offices and commissions have been mul'tiplied, for various public purposes; and all these 'appointments proceed from the same high source of 'patronage and preferment. Parliament has wisely 'excluded all these officers, with a few necessary excep'tions, from the privilege of sitting in the House of 'Commons; but otherwise these extensive means of 'influence have been entrusted to the executive Grovern'ment, without any apprehension that they will be 'perverted to uses injurious to the freedom or public 'interests of the country.'1

It is evident, then, that by the letter of the law the Government of the day has, in almost every region of

1 May's Comtitvtional Watery, vol. i. p. 164.

affairs, enormous opportunities of independent action, under the cloak of exercising one or other of the prerogatives of the Crown. When it is said that a sufficient constitutional check is provided against abuse by the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, it must be borne in mind that Ministers are for the moment only responsible to the Parliament as it is composed at the time, and that, as was said above, a servile majority might succeed in giving substantial reality to practices and doctrines condemned by the undoubted genius and traditions of the Constitution. The remedial action available in such a case is threefold. In the first place, there is the hopeful possibility that the next Parliament will abandon the wayward courses, unpatriotic subserviency, or flickering indifference of purpose, which gave a temporary lustre to what were in truth the miasmatic products of decay and not the natural signs of healthy life. In the second place, there is the persistent appeal, within the Houses themselves, on the part of the minority, however small, to the bestestablished constitutional principles, even in moments when those principles are being most signally set at nought. It is much, that at least the truth should be heard; and it is the usual result of uttering truth that it is re-echoed again and again in unexpected quarters, finding a response among, it may be, only a few here or a few there, but nevertheless by its inherent value and by its consistency finally supplanting everywhere the weakness, the selfishness, and the essential worthlessness of error. Even a generation is not too long a time to hope and wait for the resurrection of great constitutional truths, buried for a time beneath the load of political selfishness or apathy. But principles Parliamentary Control of Foreign Policy. 363

cannot rise again unless they are really sown, although it he in weakness. It is, then, the paramount duty of every statesman and every party, however insignificant, who suspect the minutest infringement of the Constitution by the Government, and who see that infringement in the way to be erected into a principle by the acclamations of an intolerant and tyrannical majority, to cry aloud in the streets, and in distinct tones to alarm the country. The country may not listen to the alarm then and there, but it must listen, hear, and obey sooner or later, if it is to live. In the third place, there is the process of formulating with ever-increasing precision the exact duties which the Government owes to the House in respect of making it acquainted, at the earliest possible moment, with all executive measures to which the Royal prerogative properly extends, and affording it the fullest opportunity of acting freely, deliberately, and decisively in all those matters for which the concert of the House with the Crown, at some stage or other of the proceedings, will be imperatively required. The leading topics on which such punctilious precision seems, by recent experience, to be most urgently demanded are, (1), Foreign Affairs; (2), Financial Affairs ; (3), the management of the Army and Navy; and (4), Colonial administration.

(1.) Foreign Affairs. There are several causes which have concurred to bring about the fact that it is only within a very few years that the House of Commons has roused itself from the apathy in respect of foreign affairs into which it had sunk since the conclusion of the wars with the French Empire in 1815. For the first fifteen years or so after the date of the Treaty of

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »