« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Mr. Disraeli on Election Judges.
'mons waived, after ample discussion, after great 'thought, and with a due sense of the sacrifices they 'were making. If we were now to announce that 'because the decision of a Judge acting under such 'authority does not please us, we are to come to a deci'sion contrary to that which according to the provisions 'of the law has heen made public, I can only look upon 'it that if this Motion were carried the authority of that 'Act would be entirely superseded. I am not prepared, 'however, to supersede or abrogate that Act. I believe 'that it has worked well for the country and for the 'House of Commons.' He concludes his speech by saying: 'I trust the House will not allow itself to deviate 'into a path so dangerous and difficult as the one that 'has been indicated, and which we have been recom'mended to pursue to-night. I am sure if we do we 'shall open up a scene of confusion which will not easily 'end, and no question of a contest will ever come before 'the House without some proposition being made, so 'unconstitutional in its character that the result must be 'the degradation of the authority of Parliament and the 'reduction of all our powers to make ourselves useful to 'the country.'1
If the last fifty years have been distinguished by a more sincere desire on the part of the House of Commons to secure the purity of elections, and thereby to make its own representative character comport strictly with the requirements of the existing Constitution, it is not surprising that the notion of representation itself, as applied to the House of Commons, has of late been
1 The Times, Feb. 10, 1875.
exposed to much critical inquiry, and has undergone, and is still undergoing, no small amount of change.1 The familiar idea attached to the word 'representation' is so widely diffused throughout every part of domestic and social life, in all but the most primitive conditions of society, that it is not necessary here to examine or refine upon all the thoughts and associations which the word calls up. Suffice it to say, that political representation means something very different when society is highly civilised and complicated, from what it must mean when the wants and sentiments of the people said to be represented are simple, constant, and uniform. The most elementary acquaintance with the history of representative government in England brings to mind the fact that the functions of the early parliaments were, in a legislative sense, rather negative than
1 The history of 'representation' in Europe has been investigated by M. Guizot in his 'Representative Government,' and by other writers. The result of these inquiries, so far as the modem English Constitution is concerned, is as follows: (1) Political representation means something very different in different ages and different states of society. (2) The earliest known form of representation, as exhibited in the States of Modern Europe, is found in the Councils and Synods of the Church, and in the various devices resorted to by the Church for reconciling the claims of independent Christian communities with the ever-growing claims of a centralised authority. (3) In accordance with these facts, the earliest kind of representation was the reverse of what is now meant by delegacy. (4) The feudal system introduced a new starting-point for representation, but the ecclesiastical precedent suggested its machinery, and probably influenced its spirit. (5) The later history of representation is mainly marked by a growth of activity and independence on the part of the constituent body, and so implies a recurrence to the very earliest form of ecclesiastical representation, when the Christian commonalty was really supreme. The whole question must also be looked at in its connection with the history of federal government.
Early History of Representation. 47
positive. Called together for the briefest time, they were required simply to answer whether those by whom they were deputed, and whose intentions they were assumed to know, would or would not make the King the grant of money he required. But their acquaintance with their constituents was intimate enough to enable them not only to seize the occasion for stating and remedying all sorts of local grievances which might otherwise have been overlooked, but also to become the mouthpiece of a growing national sentiment common to all the constituencies, and to consolidate their own position by originating legislation, and even directing, as occasion served, the general policy of the country. The next stage in the history of representation only differs from the former one in that the relations of the King and the people, as ascertained and controlled by the representative Assembly, no longer turned principally upon expedients for raising money. The national sentiment has become more and more self-conscious, and the wants of the several constituencies less capable of easy expression, or of reduction to a common form. But the idea of representation is still as persistent as ever,- and even in proportion as the reproduction in a legislative Assembly of the sentiments of distant constituents becomes necessarily less exact, the necessity for having those sentiments impressed upon the Government policy becomes increasingly urgent, and the moral obligations of so-called representatives assume a more refined, more cogent, and certainly not less substantial shape, than in the days of old. This stage of transition is marked by the growing prevalence, in the minds of candidates themselves, of such views as those expressed by Mr. Burke in his well-known speech to the electors of Bristol in 1774. The passage will be found cited in full on a later page, in connection with the subject of the contrast between the ideas of representation and delegacy.
The present period may be said to exhibit a highly advanced condition of the later stage of representation here denoted. The purposes of having the clear popular will, if only that could be deciphered, reproduced and enforced in the Houses of the Legislature —(for the House of Lords must be treated for many purposes as also a representative Assembly)—are that, (1) the different sections of the population throughout the country have a vast variety of separate needs which ought to be made known when legislation is contemplated, and, (2) the aggregate population entertains —or in times of vigorous political life is assumed to entertain—decided political convictions on general home and foreign policy, to which, sooner or later, and whether by a facile or a rough mechanism, it will determine to give effect. Thus the reality, nature, and value at any time of a representative system turns upon whether the people on their side have clear views of their own wants, and fixed sentiments in respect of a national policy; and whether those whom they choose to be the organs of their needs and opinions in the Legislature are competently acquainted with the fact of those needs and opinions, and are sternly conscientious enough to do all that their constituents themselves would in the same place do to give effect to them.
The forms in which the representative problem here indicated is manifested are the current controversies as to, 1, how far a Member of Parliament is or is not a mere delegate, and, 2, how far a true representative system ought to provide for the representation of mino
rities as well as of majorities. Both these controversies are greatly affected by the transcendent fact of the existence of government by party, a subject which in its recent aspects will be shortly discussed by itself.
1. It is inevitable that, considering the enormously wide range of modern political interests, local and national, and the breadth and strength of political sentiments which at certain moments are capable of being roused into action throughout the country, the question should be always presenting itself afresh, as to whether a Member of the House of Commons can and ought to bind himself to reproduce the views of the bulk of his constituents with the literal faithfulness of a deputed delegate or ambassador; or whether, knowing the wishes and feelings of his constituents, and finding them to be in general harmony, and on leading topics even coincident, with his own, he is entitled or bound to approach the task of legislation with a mind and conscience wholly unembarrassed by previous promises, and to revert in thought to that special section of the community which has elected him so far only as he believes the opinions and feeliDgs of that section to be of such weight that they ought not to be left out of account in ascertaining and giving effect to the determinations of the general national will.
Nevertheless, the line is so fine between an allegation of opinion bearing on future measures and a distinct promise to act in accordance with that opinion when legislation becomes imminent, that so long as personal relationships continue to connect a Member with a definite section of the population—a principle of the English Constitution which seems likely to last for