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Minority Representation. 59
mand all the seats; but it has also been found that the minute arrangements demanded for this purpose are far more applicable to great provincial and manufacturing towns, where the voters are already familiarly known to each other, as well as already organised for a variety of other purposes, than in such places as the City of London, where only the slightest possible influence can be brought to bear on voters by those who endeavour to direct the election.
There are two principles on which schemes for minority representation may be advocated. One is, that local minorities have a claim to be heard in the House of Commons in the same numerical proportion as they bear to the majority outside the House. According to the other principle, it is alleged that though the minority has no claim to have its existence recognised in the House for the purpose of controlling the representatives of the majority, and therefore it would l)e inexpedient to afford representation to minorities generally in proportion either to their local or to their aggregate strength out of doors, yet that the genuine theory of popular representation would be most fairly deferred to, and the House of Commons best invigorated, by allowing minorities which have attained a certain degree of respectable prominence to have such a number of representatives as would preclude the notion that in the case of any important debate the voice of the minority could not be distinctly and even loudly heard.
So far as the question in England is concerned, or has been concerned in late years, the subject is complicated with another question which in fact is wholly distinct from it. The best-known advocates in England of systems of minority representation—that is, Mr. Thomas Hare and Mr. John Stuart Mill—have combined the advocacy of this reform with a recommendation to substitute throughout the country, in a greater or less degree, what may be called personal for local representation. The main object in the contemplation of these advocates seems to be, to counteract that sort of haphazard minority representation which Sir G. C. Lewis referred to as effected in practice by having places of unequal population equally represented in the House. Their general device is, so to readjust the whole representative system, that, on all the votes of the country being polled, the majority and the minorities—or rather their aggregates—should be represented in the House in exact numerical proportion to the numerical proportion they bear to one another outside the House. In this way, it is not so much that minorities are represented, as that a large number of existing minorities are by aggregation converted into majorities; and instead of its appearing in the House that the whole country is of one mind, because a bare majority in the bulk of the constituencies overbalances the minorities in them, the true balance of sentiment and political opinion is exhibited in the House with the utmost attainable exactness. The essence of this scheme, even when extended over lesser areas than that of the whole country, is seen to contravene what at present appear to be some of the most rooted institutions, not to say prejudices, to be found in the country; and it is not. necessary now to discuss the expediency of endeavouring to alter these institutions or to correct these prejudices. The schemes alluded to must qualify the character of the House of Commons as a deliberative and executive body, a far greater onus of responsibility being cast Its Effect on the House.
upon it on its deliberative side, and a far greater freedom being permitted to it on its executive side. To the extent that all the elements of the national political life are reproduced on the floor of the House of Commons, the discussions now conducted outside the House, the result of which is to determine the relations of the majority to the minority, must be increasingly conducted inside the House. The House must come to feel that it has less and less any distinct mandate from the country, and its independence must be vastly increased at the expense of the constituencies throughout the country, so soon as these have performed their functions of choosing acceptable mouthpieces. This must be the tendency of things, though shorter Parliaments, and the fact of party government, may do much to modify its effect. It is obvious, then, that schemes for minority representation of this kind include far more in their purport than a mere provision against the chance of important classes of the people having their voices wholly unheard in the Legislature, because they are not yet numerous enough to command a majority of votes in more than perhaps a very few places.
The real value of minority representation must rather be tested in the simpler cases in which it is now applied to the five great towns already enumerated. Those who object to this sort of representation are wont to argue that, to the extent to which it has been introduced, it does more than merely prevent the voice of the minority being silenced in the House, and that it either counteracts the legitimate force of the majority, or discloses an apparent balance of opinion and political determination which does much practically to disfranchise the places represented. To throw light on the question, it is necessary to consider what are the claims to exclusive representation, which a majority in a particular place represented may be held to possess. Of course there may be true majorities and false majorities. A false majority exists where—owing either to dormant political activity, or ignorance, or slavish subservience to discreditable influences—a small minority chances to acquire at election time the power of converting to its own uses the numerical majority of the voters. A true majority is where every voter who goes to constitute the majority acts as a free and independent citizen, with a competent knowledge of the issues at stake, and with a fixed determination to give effect to the promptings of his reason and conscience. Where such a true majority exists, and is, as it must be by the hypothesis, unanimous in support of a candidate, the only reasons why its vote should not be either counteracted or modified in effect by the presence of an equally true minority are, (1) the advantage to the country generally of obliging every class of opinions to be submitted to the somewhat rough test of popularity before they become the basis of legislation, and (2) the advantage to the Hous^ of Commons of having a distinct and uniform direction given to its counsels by what is taken to be,—say, for purposes of public convenience only,—the undivided popular voice. It is sometimes held that there is some inscrutable virtue in the decisions of a majority, however small, and that it has a moral right, even if it should not have the physical force, to assert an uncontrolled ascendency. Whether these beliefs are held to be democratic, republican, or anything else, they are most unsafe foundations on which to build any cogent political argument. It is impossible to say too much—and much has been said— The True Claim of Majorities. 63
on the necessity, in the most democratically constituted societies, of favouring the growth of new and varied opinions,—to be held for a long time, it may be, by very narrow sections of the community; and political, religious, and social freedom would become impossible, and truth extinct, if the idea ever gained ground that the political or other beliefs of a numerical majority afforded any test of their inherent value, or could found a claim for undisputed supremacy.
In spite, however, of these salutary deductions from the conceit of those who panegyrise the merits of popular majorities, plebiscites,'and the like, a sound and popular form of government presupposes that Government shall in its main acts and policy not only follow a uniform and decided course, but that that course shall commend itself to at least a considerable portion of the population; and if two or more decided and uniform courses present themselves, the only mode of choosing between them is that of ascertaining which is acceptable to the greater number of people.
The claims of a majority to decide elections being thus found to rest solely upon the convenience of a uniform administration, and the imperious necessity of making an absolute choice between the wishes of one set of persons and those of another, the limitat ions to these claims are at once indicated; and it is in these limitations that the claims to representation on the part of minorities can alone be discovered. The fact is, that the assertion of the political claims of minorities is just so far out of harmony with the working of popular institutions as the area over which a particular election extends is small, and may be consistent with them as the area becomes very large. Thus, in very small