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rity of the Cabinet in the unhampered exercise of the special and confidential powers delegated to it by Parliament. If there was any intervention of this sort during the earlier stages of the Crimean war, certainly Lord Aberdeen seems not to have repudiated it; and yet, up to the time of the publication of the Prince Consort's Life, more than twenty years afterwards, neither House of Parliament could have conjectured, except by the vaguest suspicion, what was the real source of reticence at one time, assertion at another, and inconsistencies at any time.
But, apart from such direct influence brought to bear on the Cabinet by the Sovereign, which is so plainly outside the limits of the proper constitutional action of the Sovereign in England, and for which Parliament can, if once its attention be awakened, provide an adequate remedy by extorting from Ministers a plenary account or anticipation of their policy, wherever possible, and condemning in the severest fashion, all ambiguity, inconsistency, hesitation, or recantations, —there is another hazard, far more inaccessible to the ordinary modes of Parliamentary censure, or even detection. It is possible that the Chief of the Cabinet himself may have a policy of his own, which is not that of Parliament, nor of any party in Parliament. He may give currency and weight to this policy by obtaining the concurrence and sympathy of the Sovereign. If the policy be of too strange or startling a nature to be instantly divulged, even to the members of his own Parliamentary majority, he may certainly rely upon their indulgence and support when ultimately he comes before Parliament for a ratification of his acts, or an indemnity for his irregularities. In an extreme case,
Policy of a Single Minister. 373
it may happen that such a Minister is in such sole possession of his political theory and programme, that he fails even to communicate a belief in it to his own colleagues. If these colleagues, as a body, consider their personal allegiance to their chief, or their general agreement with him on other matters, or their hope of moderating or counteracting opposed views, or their desire to retain office, sufficient to overcome the differences of opinion, and to justify them in remaining in the Cabinet, it is hard indeed for Parliament to distinguish what may be the most wild and hare-brained scheme of a single enthusiast from the long-meditated thought, treasured experience, and combined counsels, of a body specially selected from the ablest statesmen in the two Houses. The only loopholes through which an occasional gleam of light may travel are supplied by the inevitable inconsistencies and surprises which the heads of the different departments must, in a divided Cabinet, occasionally disclose, and the almost inevitable fact that at certain crises in the negotiations one and another of the most eminent and scrupulous members of the Cabinet will publicly abandon it.
It is one of the gravest and most pressing constitutional questions at the present day, by what new Parliamentary machinery, or by what new adjustments of ancient and well-tried machinery, Parliament can guard against undue influences over the Cabinet exerted either by the Sovereign or by its Chief, and against the sort of treacherous anarchy that may long co-exist in a Cabinet with formal unity.
The history of the four Sessions from 1876 to 1879 inclusive has thrown so much light on the constitutional problems here indicated, and suoh frequent illustrations have been afforded of the necessity of insisting on the three sorts of checks before enumerated,—the exacting at the hands of Ministers that they 6hall give the earliest and the fullest communication of all negotiation in progress, and of the general policy advocated, —that they shall not pledge Parliament and the country to definite acts and liabilities except in cases of the most commanding necessity, which must always be of a rare and exceptional kind,—and that they shall be habitually truthful, unambiguous, and honest in imparting information to Parliament—that, on these accounts alone, a reference to this history, so far as its constitutional can be separated from its political side, cannot be evaded in this place. But the subject has still stronger claims to consideration from the fact, that the events concerned,—that is, the circumstances which led up to the Berlin Congress of 1878, and the establishment of a new Imperial era in India, through the aid of the Viceroy, Lord Lytton, accompanied by an Afghan war,'—are of themselves of the utmost importance, and are likely to afford material for permanent political differences of opinion; that, for the first time during the century, a large organised minority of the House of Commons was, at every leading stage of the events and negotiations, in direct and uncompromising resistance to the policy and acts of the Government; and that throughout all the political debates there was interwoven a web, often very entangled, of constitutional controversy, which, for the breadth of ground it covered and the radical depths to which it again and again reached, was either unprecedented, or could at best only find a precedent in the time of Edmund Burke's dissertations,—often, it is said, to bare walls,—on the
The Suez Canal Shares. 375
constitutional relations of England to her Colonies and to India.
The first step which has to be noticed is the purchase by the British Government, in November, 1875, of the large bulk of the shares in the Suez Canal. As a financial measure, this subject will be alluded to later on. As a political measure, it is sufficient to say that the first mention of it in Parliament was on the 21st of February, 1876, when a Motion was made in the House of Commons by the Government, for a supply to the amount of four millions, the purchase-money of the shares. The bearing of the Suez Canal on the relations of England and India must not be left out of mind. It was four days before this, on the 17th of February, that Mr. Disraeli brought forward his motion for leave to bring in a Bill to alter the style and title of Her Majesty. As has been noticed before, it was bis intention to avoid all communication to the House of the form of the new title, and it was only on the urgent and indeed rebellious remonstrances met with from all quarters, that he, on a later day, intimated that the title would be 'Empress of India.' The significance of the title notoriously was, that British India was no longer to be treated as a multiform and composite dependency, only a limited part of which was strictly annexed to the British soil, and large outlying portions of which were more or less tributary provinces enjoying various degrees of independence and even princely dignity; but that, by name now, and in fact hereafter, British India was to be converted into a homogeneous unit of the British dominions, all tokens of actual or historical independence being annihilated in the glaring lustre of the English Imperial Crown.
While these events were somewhat rapidly proceeding, both at home and abroad, other events, destined to converge to the same ends, were happening in the East of Europe. The year 1877 and the beginning of 1878 were occupied by the Servian, Montenegrin, and Russian wars against Turkey, terminating in the ratification of the Treaty of San Stefano on March 17, 1878. But the policy of the English Government was not to be defeated or defrauded by Russian successes and the termination of the war. As soon as Parliament met, some days before its usual time, in January 1878, the rumours of the newspapers were instantly confirmed; a vote of credit for six millions was demanded; it was announced that the British fleet had sailed for the Dardanelles; and, on both these grounds, Lord Carnarvon stated in the House of Lords that he had retired from office. On the 28th of March, Lord Derby, the Foreign Secretary, similarly retired from the Cabinet, on the grounds, as it afterwards appeared, that the Cabinet had determined to make some arrangement with Turkey for the annexation of Cyprus or some other like station, and that the British fleet was ordered to Constantinople.
On the 1st of April the Government produced in the two Houses a message from the Queen announcing that 'the present state of public affairs in the East, 'and the necessity in connection therewith of taking 'steps for the maintenance of peace and for the pro'tection of the interests of the Empire, having consti'tuted, in the opinion of Her Majesty, a case of great 'emergency within the meaning of the Acts of Parlia'ment in that behalf, Her Majesty deems it proper to 'provide additional means for her military service.'