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Duration of Parliaments. 55
'be absurd in him to tie down that physician to order 'particular pills and particular draughts. While he 'continues to be the customer of a shoemaker, it would 'be absurd in him to sit by and mete every motion of 'that shoemaker's hand.
'And in the same manner, it would, I think, be 'absurd in him to require positive pledges, and to exact 'daily and hourly obedience, from his representative. 'My opinion is, that electors ought at first to choose 'cautiously; then to confide liberally; and, when the 'term for which they have selected their member has 'expired, to review his conduct equitably, and to pro'nounce on the whole taken together.'1
The question is considerably affected by another question which, from recent symptoms, seems likely to come into early prominence—that of the duration of Parliaments. It is well known that it was only by an historical accident, by means of a doubtful constitutional expedient resorted to for the sake of preserving the continuity of the existing Parliament at the time of the accession of the House of Hanover in the person of George I., that triennial were converted into septennial Parliaments. Obviously, the theory of delegacy, as opposed to that of a less fettered system, recommends itself from the constituent's point of view just in proportion to the duration of Parliaments, that is, to the length of time for which the member will be out of the practical control of those who have elected him. This is not the place to discuss the general question of the comparative value of longer or shorter Parliaments, which is bound up with various other considerations
1 G. O. Trevelyan's Life and Letters of Lord Macaulaij, vol. i., p. 277, seq.
besides that of the completeness of popular representation to which they severally tend to give effect. It must be noticed, however, that, considering the political changes brought about by mere efflux of time, and the modifications of opinion which lengthened experience on all sides must create, as well as the fact of new generations of the people incessantly coming to the front and claiming a voice in the national councils, the question of the length of Parliaments is one on which no small portion of the controversy as to the sort of representation which is henceforward to prevail must largely depend.
2. It was said in an earlier part of this chapter, that the distinguishing feature by which the most recent reforms of the House of Commons are characterised is the deference paid to the situation and political claims of the individual person, as contrasted with those of any body, class, or group of the population to which he is believed to belong. This changed and changing point of view has been signalised, as was seen, among other things, by an increase of provision for securing a free and deliberate expression of the opinion of every individual voter. The voter has been liberated as far as possible from all enforced subservience to any persons by whom he happens to be surrounded, and who in a different condition of society might be held legitimately entitled to direct, or at least to influence, his political choice. For a moment it might seem that such changes, especially when somewhat violently wrought by Acts of Parliament, would be attended by all the evils of individualism, political insulation, and competitive selfishness of the narrowest kind. But here, as in other well-known fields, a compensatory provision is instantly introduced. Natural Compensation in Natural Change. 5 7
As the old vanishes, it lays bare the seeds, which it had long concealed and protected, of what is better and higher. The involuntary and accidental grouping of citizens may be indeed dislocated and shattered; but in its place there are shooting up on all sides a variety of new growths, of every degree of exuberance and promise. To some pensive minds the old seems the more natural, and therefore to be regretted, while the new, having in it a greater admixture of conscious human activity, and therefore of avowed imperfection, is obnoxious because of its artificiality, and the whole process seems to them to be a substitution of mechanism for life. But that is in the truest sense natural which is found by long experience and observation best to reveal and expand the individual and social nature of man. Whatever man in the exercise of his political or other faculties is led to contrive or invent, he may claim to have inherited as his natural and original birthright.1 It thus comes about that the moment of the political liberation of the individual citizen from the swaddling-clothes of class or property influence, which he had outgrown, is also the moment of the manufacture of new expedients for binding citizens together in organised groups, which shall enable every individual citizen to economise to the utmost, and employ the most effectively, the force with which the Constitution endows him.
Of these voluntary efforts to secure the most highly economised use of political force, the various devices which have been suggested for the representation of minorities are among the most conspicuous. Sir
1 Compare Aristotle, Pol. i. 2. 'doc yhp iKaariu iart Vtjs ytvhrfws G. C. Lewis, indeed, in an article in the Edinburgh Review, on the 'Representation of Minorities,' written in July 1854, went so far as to argue that the representation of minorities was already one of the most essential elements of the English Constitution. He said, indeed, that the parliamentary system was exclusively founded on the representation of minorities; for no member of Parliament was elected by more than a small section of the electors, and the principle of territorial division secured that smaller towns, and counties with the smallest populations, should be represented in fact very nearly on a par with the largest towns and most populous counties. It is an undoubted fact that in all attempts to reconstruct the basis of the franchise, any scheme for what are sometimes called 'equal electoral districts' has at present very little chance of support from more than an inconsiderable number of members in the House, and perhaps even of the thinking population outside. The only distinct effort which has been made by Parliament to introduce a trial of the system of representing minorities has been through the medium of the Reform Bill of 1867, by which all the towns which under that Bill returned three members—i.e., Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds—and the City of London, which was to return four—were to afford to the minority of the constituents at general elections the opportunity of returning one member. This was effected by disabling voters from recording their votes in favour of more candidates than one short of the number of members to be elected. It has been found in practice that where the numerical majority is sufficiently large, it is possible so to distribute the votes that the majority may, even under this system, comMinority 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 be 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.