« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
In these cursory remarks on the constitutional aspects of the controversy which arose out of the Royal Warrant for the Abolition of Purchase in the Army, it need scarcely be said that no argument is offered or involved as to the political expediency of the step in question, or as to what may be called the moral propriety of giving, through the medium of a fresh precedent, renewed weight to an already threatening advantage . which the Executive Government has acquired over each House of Parliament, and especially over the House of Lords.
Some years afterwards, on May 13, 1879, Mr. Gladstone himself, in the course of a speech on another subject, incidentally and briefly gave an account of the transaction from his own point of view. In answer to some members who in the course of the current debate had severely condemned the exercise of the prerogative, he said : 'I have not the smallest objection to that con'demnation, if their minds lead them to that judgment
'against the ambition, or, what is much more likely, the perverse 'haughtiness of the aristocracy, the Constitution has not furnished 'such direct securities. ... It is true that the resource of subduing 'an aristocratical faction by the creation of new peers could never 'be constitutionally employed except in the case of a nearly equal 'balance; but it might usefully hang over the heads of the whole 'body, and deter them from any gross excesses of faction or oligar'chicalspirit.'—Hallam, Coiut. Mist.chap.xvi. SeealsoParliamentary History, vii. 589. The history of this Bill, and of the later exercise and threatened exercise of the prerogative in the matter, sufficiently proves the existence of the prerogative itself. Mr. Hallam does not seem to advert to the fact that, inasmuch as it is in effect the Government who create new peers, and the House of Commons who create the Government, the prerogative is rather a mark of the ascendency of the House of Commons over the House of Lords than an independent constitutional check on political extravagance ou the part of the Lords.
Mr. Gladstone on Army Purchase. 31
'upon an important action taken at an important 'crisis. But I did not detect from the speeches of 'either or both gentlemen that they were in the 'slightest degree aware of the ground of that exercise 'of the prerogative. Now, the ground of that exercise 'of the prerogative was this—and it is necessary that 'there should now be said what was said at the time, but 'apparently it has not found a place in the recollection 'of either of them. The ground for the exercise of that 'prerogative was this: It had been brought to the 'knowledge not only of the Government, but of Parlia'ment and of the entire community, that there was 'bound up with the working of the system of purchase 'a system of flagrant illegality—an illegality in many 'instances mixed up with personal complications, but 'at any rate an illegality of the nature and character 'of which there was. not the slightest doubt—an il'legality which was imbedded in the system of extra'regimental prices for commissions; and that system 'was inseparable from the system of purchase. It was 'to put a stop to an illegality, and for no other purpose, 'that the prerogative of the Crown was exercised.'
As an interesting contrast to the view here presented of the circumstances and prospects of the House of Lords, a short extract may be inserted from a letter of Lord Macaulay's, when Member of Parliament for Leeds. The letter is dated from the House of Commons, June 6, 1833. Referring to a vote of censure on June 3, in reference to the Portuguese policy of the Ministry, carried by the Duke of Wellington in the Lords' House by a majority of 79 votes to 69, and in immediate anticipation of a counter-resolution which was carried in the Commons on the 6th (the date of the letter) by 361 votes to 98, Lord Macaulay writes as follows: 'You know that the Lords have been foolish 'enough to pass a vote implying censure on the Ministers. 'The Ministers do not seem inclined to take it of them. 'The King has snubbed their Lordships properly; and • in about an hour, as I guess (for it is near eleven), we 'shall have come to a Resolution in direct opposition 'to that agreed to by the Upper House. Nobody seems 'to care one straw for what the Peers say about any 'public matter. A Resolution of the Court of Common 'Council, or of a meeting at Freemasons' Hall, has often 'made a greater sensation than this declaration of a 'branch of the Legislature against the Executive 'Government. The institution of the Peerage is evi'dently dying a natural death.'1
A further and more instructive contrast, because arising from events of later date and more momentous importance, is supplied by the conduct of the Duke of Wellington in 1846, at the close of the three nights' discussion in the House of Lords on the Repeal of the Corn Laws. The Duke said that 'the Bill for the 'Repeal of the Corn Laws had already been agreed to by 'the other two branches of the Legislature;' 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 project sent up to them—'a sentiment,' says Lord Beaconsfield, in his 'Life of Lord George 'Bentinck,'' the bearing of which seems not easy to dis'tinguish from the vote of the Long Parliament which 'openly abrogated those functions.'5
1 Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, by G. 0. Trevelyan, M.P., vol. i. p. 297.
* Life of Lord George Sentinck, p. 229.
The modifications which have heen made in the composition and quality of the House of Commons are of a far more distinct and unmistakable character than those just adverted to in the case of the Lords. These modifications are expressed in well-known Acts of Parliament, carried after long discussion in and out of the two Houses, and the operation of which has since been incessantly and minutely scanned for purposes of political calculation or conjecture. The Reform Act of 1832 had for its object mainly the remedy of staring abuses, such as not even the most persistent stickler for adherence to the forms of the older English Constitution could honestly defend. The Act of 1867, and the tentative measures which prepared the way for it, though also directed to the remedying of abuses, were still more designed to bring the recognised Constitution into harmony with needs and occasions to which only very recent times had given birth.
Two principles have contended for supremacy in all attempts to reform the composition of the House of Commons; and the actual history of the country has exhibited a certain amount of deference to both principles simultaneously. One principle has been that of the representation of indefinite groups of the population, and the other that of the representation of individual persons. Bearing in mind the feudal history of county representation, and what may be called the municipal history of borough representation, and the history of the various special franchisee which have grown out of these two, or side by side with them, it is well at once to dismiss the idea that in England it has ever been recognised as part of the Constitution that an individual1 right to vote at Parliamentary elections accompanies either (1) a liability to be taxed, or (2) a liability to serve in any public office, or (3) the mere ownership of any kind of property, or, least of all, (4) general amenability to the laws of the land. The fact is that in England the idea of representation, indefinite as it is at the best, has from the earliest times so diffusively penetrated the Constitution, that individual voters s$em at the first, and for long afterwards, to have been almost lost sight of, in view of the fact that some among their number attended at election-time on behalf of all members of the class, It was never doubted that the classinterest, if separable from the national interest, would be as exactly appreciated and as competently protected by one member of the class as by another.* The clearlyconceived notion of individual as contrasted with class
1 This word,' individual,' disposes of all the misleading analogies which have been deduced from the case of the American colonies as advocated by Edmund Burke, and the cases of existing dependencies of England, the claims of which to share in the counsels of the Imperial Legislature are sometimes urged by an appeal to such maxims (rightly or wrongly construed) as 'No taxation without representation.'
1 If minute proofs are wanted of any historical allegations here made or conclusions drawn, reference is made to the late comprehensive and exhaustive researches of Professor Stubbs, in his. Constitutional History of England. It is quite useless, in treating of Constitutional History, to cite isolated historical facts, or even indiscriminately to accumulate authorities. The merit of Professor Stubbs's book is, that for every critical epoch in the development of the Constitution, he recites, year by year or even month by month, every one of the relevant events that occurred, sifti»g the authorities to the utmost, and rather leaving the reader to draw his own inevitable conclusions, than forcing upon him any foregone opinions or favourite views. In some of these respects he contrasts most favourably with every one of his predecessors, including Mr. HaUam, and of his contemporaries, including Mr. Freeman.