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Three Views of the Question.
as one of the leading States of Europe, owed a duty of humanity to the distressed provinces of Turkey, of the same kind that it had previously recognised and conformed to in the case of Greece and of Syria; or that England was bound by the traditions of the Crimean War to form an entente cordiale with the other parties to the Treaty of Paris, for the protection of the oppressed provinces equally against the ascendency of Russia and the crushing tyrauny of Turkey ;-or that it appertained to the vital interests of England that she should intervene to support, at any cost, and to the neglect of every other consideration, whether of philanthropy or of obligatory duty as defined by treaties, the tottering fabric of Turkish rule. Whichever of these views commended itself, there was one firm position held by every statesman, and almost every English citizen who was worthy of the name,—that is, that England could no longer adhere to the policy of standing on one side and leaving things to take their chance or merely settle themselves according to the chapter of accidents. The usual signs of a really inflamed state of public interest and of divided opinion manifested themselves throughout the country; and the duty was instantly cast on the Government of interpreting as best they might the popular sentiment, or at any rate of promoting a policy which, with all their opportunities of knowledge and deliberate counsel, they could conscientiously adopt, as being that most likely to reconcile a due regard to British interests with a firm resolution to discharge British duties. Naturally, the House of Commons became the main arena in which the struggle between opposite views of policy was ultimately fought out. The general result is known to all, though the
consequences are too numerous and manifold to admit as yet of any but the vaguest conjecture. What is alone, however, of relevance here is, that it has been through the medium of this energetic rivalry between the minority in the House and the majority supporting the Government that the true relations which ought to exist between the Crown and the House of Commons with respect to foreign affairs have been ventilated and discussed as never before. If it be thought that somewhat too much of political passion or party spirit has entered into these discussions, that is only saying that the hard constitutional rules, scarcely as yet fully fashioned, have been forged in that red-hot furnace in which alone such strong and immortal instruments can be shaped for use.
The general upshot of the constitutional controversy between the minority and the Government relates to the following obligations alleged to be incumbent on the Government.
(i.) It is incumbent on the Government to produce all papers and despatches relating to current engagements of all sorts with foreign Powers at the earliest moment compatible with a due regard for the public interest, and whether they are asked for by the House or not.
(ii.) It is incumbent on the Government to take the House into its confidence at the earliest moment as to all definitive arrangements on the verge of being completed, the result of which, when completed, would be to charge the finances of the country, to increase the treaty obligations of the country, or to affect the national dignity and honour.
(iii.) It is morally as well as politically incumbent on the Government, and on every member of it, to be
Royal Policy in the Cabinet.
consistent in the report of events and negotiations as they are successively disclosed, and not, either by omission, or misrepresentation, or perversion, or abuse of language, to run the risk of conveying a meaning inconsistent with the truth, though it be not always expedient or necessary to reveal the whole truth.
The purpose of Parliament in demanding such an exact account of current negotiations as the duties here described would involve, is not only in order to be able at the earliest moment to foresee and prepare for its own contingent action, nor to guard against the possibility of Ministers diverging from time to time from paths which have been once clearly traced out. There are still greater perils than those here indicated;or rather the perils here indicated are only very innocent forms of the bazards which are still left open, even when the strictest formal requirements of the Constitution are complied with. It has already been seen, in treating another part of the subject, that it is quite possible for the Sovereign himself to have an active personal concern in foreign policy, and occasionally to intervene, either by initiation, over-zealous superintendence, remonstrances, cautions, or impulses given in certain specific directions, with the action of the Cabinet, in such a way as to impair its independence and to perplex its relations with Parliament. Where the Cabinet, or even the influential Chief of the Cabinet, is content to acquiesce in this intervention, and to aszume, in the presence of Parliament, all the responsibility it imposes, there is no formal constitutional check provided against the country being, to the extent of the intervention supposed, governed by the direct will of the Sovereign, and not by the deliberate authority of the Cabinet in the unhampered exercise of the special and confidential powers delegated to it by Parliament. If there was any intervention of this sort during the earlier stages of the Crimean war, certainly Lord Aberdeen seems not to have repudiated it; and yet, up to the time of the publication of the Prince Consort's Life, more than twenty years afterwards, neither House of Parliament could have conjectured, except by the vaguest suspicion, what was the real source of reticence at one time, assertion at another, and inconsistencies at any time.
But, apart from such direct influence brought to bear on the Cabinet by the Sovereign, which is so plainly outside the limits of the proper constitutional action of the Sovereign in England, and for which Parliament can, if once its attention be awakened, provide an adequate remedy by extorting from Ministers a plenary account or anticipation of their policy, wherever possible, and condemning in the severest fashion, all ambiguity, inconsistency, hesitation, or recantations,
-there is another hazard, far more inaccessible to the ordinary modes of Parliamentary censure, or even detection. It is possible that the Chief of the Cabinet himself may have a policy of his own, which is not that of Parliament, nor of any party in Parliament. He may give currency and weight to this policy by obtaining the concurrence and sympathy of the Sovereign. If the policy be of too strange or startling a nature to be instantly divulged, even to the members of his own Parliamentary majority, he may certainly rely upon their indulgence and support when ultimately he comes before Parliament for a ratification of his acts, or an indemnity for his irregularities. In an extreme case,
Policy of a Single Minister.
it may happen that such a Minister is in such sole possession of his political theory and programme, that he fails even to communicate a belief in it to his own colleagues. If these colleagues, as a body, consider their personal allegiance to their chief, or their general agreement with him on other matters, or their hope of moderating or counteracting opposed views, or their desire to retain office, sufficient to overcome the differences of opinion, and to justify them in remaining in the Cabinet, it is hard indeed for Parliament to distinguish what may be the most wild and hare-brained scheme of a single enthusiast from the long-meditated thought, treasured experience, and combined counsels, of a body specially selected from the ablest statesmen in the two Houses. The only loopholes through which an occasional gleam of light may travel are supplied by the inevitable inconsistencies and surprises which the heads of the different departments must, in a divided Cabinet, occasionally disclose, and the almost inevitable fact that at certain crises in the negotiations one and another of the most eminent and scrupulous members of the Cabinet will publicly abandon it.
It is one of the gravest and most pressing constitutional questions at the present day, by what new Parliamentary machinery, or by what new adjustments of ancient and well-tried machinery, Parliament can guard against undue influences over the Cabinet exerted either by the Sovereign or by its Chief, and against the sort of treacherous anarchy that may long co-exist in a Cabinet with formal unity.
The history of the four Sessions from 1876 to 1879 inclusive has thrown so much light on the constitutional problems here indicated, and such frequent illustrations