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Initiation of Money Grants.
'though the House of Commons still maintains the rule 'that money shall not be voted except on the proposal 'of the Crown, yet it permits itself to be pledged by 'Addresses, Resolutions, and even the language of Bills 'and Acts, to outlay in many forms, and these pledges it 'becomes morally compulsory on Governments in their 'turn to redeem.' It might well be urged that through these irregularities, not only is one of the most antique usages of the Constitution practically rescinded, but all the evils of irresponsibility in respect of the general management of the public exchequer may be expected to follow. Another most competent critic of English Parliamentary institutions, Earl Grey,1 also comments on some of the consequences of growing informalities in the mode by which the House of Commons asserts its claim in respect of granting supplies. 'A wholesome 'rule of Parliamentary law debars the House of Com* mons from making any grants of money without the 'previous recommendation of the Crown through its re'sponsible Servants ; but unfortunately this rule may be 'evaded by addresses from the House to the Crown, 'praying that certain grants may be made, and promis'ing to provide for them. Such addresses have been too 'often moved of late years; and if the House of Com'mons should fall into the habit of thus virtually setting 'aside the wise principle of our Constitution, which 'makes the Ministers of the Crown responsible for 'originating all grants of money, a door will be opened 'to the very worst corruption.' If the view of these writers be correct, it is an instance in which one of the modern movements of the Constitution takes the form
1 Parliamentary Government considered with reference to Reform. New Edition, 1864.
of an aggression on the part of the Lords' House on the prerogatives of the Crown; and, concomitantly with the other facts already noticed, as well as the recent abolition of proxies in 1868, it points on the whole to a general invigoration of the Upper House of Parliament.
A rhetorical and extreme but suggestive account of the actual preponderance of the House of Commons over all other departments of the Constitution, is contained in the following extract from a speech of Mr. Lowe, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered in the House of Commons, March 4, 1879.1
'As to the state of the Government, there are 'remarks to be made which are extremely important if 'hon. gentlemen would consider them. Most of us have 'been brought up in the doctrines of De Lolme and 'Blackstone. We have been told that the English 'Constitution is one above all that have existed, that it is 'nicely and carefully balanced, that it is made up of 'different bodies, each of which has proper functions 'assigned to it, to which it confines itself, and that by 'the proper discharge of its duty it controls and prevents 'excess in any of the others. We have Blackstone's 'theory that the King represents power, the Lords re'present wisdom, and the House of Commons represent 'good intentions, and that each of them discharges its 'functions without in the slightest degree trenching upon 'the functions of the other. We have indulged in these 'dreams long enough; let us awake from them and see 'what is the reality. No doubt the time was when the 'King had predominant power in England; but who can 'say that is the case now? Without going into details,
1 See Times, March 5, 1879.
Predominance of the Lower House. 2 7
'it is sufficient to say that the regal power is of such a 'nature now that it really affords no strong or sufficient 'check or balance at all in our Constitution. I am old 'enough to remember when the House of Lords measured 'itself with the House of Commons and challenged or 'overthrew its decisions. Who can say it is so now? That 'check also has departed. The fact is, the whole power 'of executive administration is vested in the Govern'ment of the day, and that depends for its existence 'upon the House of Commons; and the whole power of 'this country,—all that we have read of as divided among 'the different estates of the realm,—has really now 'entirely centred itself in the House of Commons, and 'everything turns upon its will. I say that, so far from 'these things being a complicated system of checks and 'balances, our Constitution has been reduced to a state 'of what I can only call tremendous simplicity. We 'have put all on a single foundation; all depends upon 'the House of Commons, upon their ability to conduct 'the business of the State properly; all depends upon 'their being able and willing to keep the Ministers of 'the Crown within bounds, and to fulfil their duties to 'the State. We have, instead of a complicated Consti'tution, the most elementary Constitution in the world 'now. We have simply an elective Assembly, and in 'that elective Assembly all the powers of the State are 'really gathered up, and in it they are centred. If that be 'so, and if that elective Assembly misconduct itself, the 'only remedy is to go back to the constituencies from 'which it is elected and to refer the matter to them, and 'from their decision there is no appeal, however momen'tous it may be. Having a body to which we have given 'the whole power over the State in this country, which * really has the single supreme power, which everything 'bows before, we should take care that it is fit for the 'discharge of that duty.'
In reference to the development of the House of Lords, it may be questioned whether the conduct of Mr. Gladstone's Government in 1871, when it superseded an adverse vote in the Lords on a Bill for the Abolition of Army Purchase, which had already passed the Commons, by issuing (whether in pursuance of a temporary power given by the 49 Geo. III., c. 126, s. 7, or in the exercise of an undisputed prerogative) a Royal Warrant which effected the object of the Bill without the assent of the Lords, marked any deliberate indifference to the opinion of the Lords' House in comparison with that of the House of Commons. Very protracted and acute debates, in which the most eminent lawyers on all sides of the House took part, arose on all the constitutional questions involved. The result was, as is usual in such cases, that the fire of party politics presented many a shadow which could only disappear at a later time, when the subject emerged into the clearer daylight of calm and critical research. The question rather belongs to a later stage of this inquiry, when the relation of Ministers to Parliament is under discussion; but even at this stage it must be remembered (1) that, assuming that the Government had the alternative, at the outset, of proceeding either by Royal Warrant or by Bill, the Government might properly be credited with a preference for proceeding by Bill, only for the purpose of providing more minutely for the multifarious claims involved, and not with any intention of incurring the slightest risk of failing to accomplish the deliberate intention of Abolition of Army Purchase. 29
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 harmonise 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.1
1 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 has 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 1 by the responsibility of its advisers; the Commons, if they trans'gress their boundaries, are annihilated by a proclamation; but