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Modes of securing a Resignation.
containing in its terms, expressly or implicitly, a general expression of censure of one or more Governmental acts, for which the Cabinet as a whole assumes the responsibility,—and of course every exercise of the Royal prerogative belongs to this class of acts ;—or a motion is brought forward expressing a mere general want of confidence, every speaker on the motion alleging what grounds he chooses for disapproval or approval of corporate or individual acts of all members of the Government; or, again, measures of the Government which the Government has deliberately selected as expressions of its policy, or for other reasons cared to base its existence upon, are rejected by Parliament, or only accepted with such qualifications as to render them worthless in the eyes of their originators. A similar result to this last is brought about when the House intimates its being out of harmony with the Government, not by rejecting any measure of great moment, but by impeding, amending, or finally discarding, a series of measures of trifling importance in themselves, but which the Government is bound to provide for, and a general resistance to which can only be dictated and sustained by political distrust of the particular persons who advocate them. This aggressive machinery has for many years past proved so effective for displacing Governments with which the House is no longer satisfied, or for bringing a straying Government back to the grooves of conformity from which it has wandered, or for effectually correcting isolated extravagances, that all reference to such a clumsy and uncertain weapon as that of impeachment is almost banished to the lore of historical treatises. The present methods are not only far more certain than the older one, but they operate
with the most flexible capacity for adjustment to the necessities of the hour, and are capable of any amount of remission, graduation, and extension. They also leave the Government in a far more free and dignified posture, relieved from any mere haunting terror of a coarse penal sanction. Nevertheless, the place of impeachment in the English Constitution must not be looked upon as vacated; because a possibility of resort to it still testifies to the fact that all agents of the Crown, whether in or out of Parliament, are liable to be subjected to the forms of a criminal trial in which one House of Parliament is the judge and the other House the prosecutor, and in which the criminal code in use is not limited in its language by the stereotyped expressions of the ordinary law, but is in fact created for the occasion by the joint opinion of the two Houses of Parliament on the political exigencies of the moment. The use of this terrible and dangerous weapon is likely hereafter to be reserved for crises which, if they could be foreseen, would be otherwise provided for; and for alleged criminals who are not subject to such effective control at every point as the recognised Ministers of the Crown in Parliament; and especially in the case of offences, — such as those which originally created the class of misdemeanours—which the language of the ordinary law has not succeeded in reducing to distinct terms, and yet which are of a magnitude sufficient to prevent existing Courts of Justice from including them by the most bold use of analogy within any well-recognised class. The real obstacle, however, to the use of the instrument of impeachment is that it must be the result of a vote of the majority of the House of Commons, and therefore becomes inevitably, and to a degree wholly unsuitable Grounds for Resigning or Retaining Office. 347
to the dignity of a criminal proceeding, entangled in the strife of opposing parties, or made to symbolise the triumph of one. All these objections, and others still more obvious, apply to what is now the practically obsolete method of proceeding by Bills of Attainder.
It need hardly be said, that no line can be drawn, in a theoretical disquisition, to mark the moment, as indicated by the number of votes, or the frequency of adverse votes, or the topics on which adverse votes are carried, at which a Government ought, by existing constitutional practice, to tender its resignation. In a doubtful case, the Government may have to consider the claims of three different orders of persons; first, the majority in the House which has outvoted it; secondly, its own political party, which continues to support it; and thirdly the Sovereign, who must be conceived to have an interest, not indeed in the prevalence of one party in the House over another, but in the continued exemption of the work of government from disturbance or from a needless change in the personality of its officials. There have been of late years some notable instances in which the Government of the day has, much to the surprise of its own party, taken a notably independent step, with the view either, as alleged by some of its defenders, of conforming to the sounder views of a majority in the House, or, as alleged by other of its defenders, of sparing the Sovereign the personal inconvenience incurred by a superfluous change in the officials through whom the business of the country was being conducted. The history of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 supplies the most illustrative instance both of the problem before a Government in such a case, and of its various possible solutions. Sir Robert Peel, indeed, was himself an honest convert to the views of the majority of the House in favour of the abolition of protective duties ; but his representative in the House of Lords, the Duke of Wellington, seems to have made little secret of the fact that from his point of view the main matter for consideration was the convenience of the Sovereign. Whether it is really fair to impute to the Duke of Wellington this deliberate preference of the convenience of the Sovereign to the claims of party loyalty, and therewith a willingness to annihilate the functions of the House of Lords, may be doubted by those who do not put an unwavering trust in Lord Beaconsfield's political recollections and sentiments. But Mr. Disraeli, in his "Life of Lord George Bentinck, not only represents the Duke as faithless to his party and to his allegiance to the House of Lords, in deference to the claims of the Sovereign and of the House of Commons, but characterises such conduct as in the highest degree unconstitutional. The passages alluded to are as follows:
His Grace of Wellington seemed to be of opinion ' that neither fidelity to party, nor even a conviction of ‘right, ought to be permitted to stand for a moment in • his way when the assumed convenience of the Crown 6 was concerned :-sentiments that have never been • sanctioned by the present Sovereign of England, and which would appear to be more becoming in the mouth
of some professional courtier than of one who bad • been the keen leader of a great Parliamentary party, ‘ and who by their co-operation and confidence had
achieved the long-contrived object of his ambition, ' the premiership of England. ... The principle laid down by His Grace may be an excellent principle, but it
Conduct of Wellington in 1846. 349 is not a principle of the English Constitution. To be • prepared to serve a Sovereign without any reference
to the policy to be pursued, or even in violation of the
convictions of the servant, is not the duty of the sub•ject of a Monarchy modified in its operation by the • co-ordinate authority of Estates of the Realm. It is • in direct violation of the Parliamentary Constitution
of England, and is a principle which can only be prac• tically carried into effect in the cabinets of absolute monarchs.'' And again, on page 229:
After a discussion of three nights, closed by the Duke of Wellington in a speech in which he informed • the House of Lords that “the Bill for the Repeal of «“the Corn Laws had already been agreed to by the 66 other two branches of the Legislature," and 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 projects sent up to them,-a • sentiment the full bearing of which seems not easy to • distinguish from the vote of the Long Parliament • which openly abrogated those functions,—the Lords • passed a second reading of the measure by the large majority of forty-seven.'
In a later passage of the same work (p. 390) Mr. Disraeli gives his views as to the duties of Sir Robert Peel himself, on the assumption, as was above noticed, that he himself personally acquiesced in the wisdom of the decision of the House of Commons.
"But this false position, which has strained and injured our happy Parliamentary government, is not
Mr. Disraeli's Life of Lord George Bentinok, pp. 61, 63.