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Treaties and Declarations of War. 387
and the terms of the Mutiny Act, so far as it affected to fix the number of allowable troops, would become a mere fictitious deference to appearances, if it were conceded that the Crown could, by an exercise of its prerogative, compete when it pleased, on a European battle-ground, with the vast standing armies of the Continent, by the simple device of enlisting troops in India and moving them to Europe.
No subject has been more eagerly discussed of late than that of the province of Parliament in respect of the making of Treaties and the declaration of War. No prerogative of the Crown is more undisputed than that of taking the initiative in all negotiations with foreign Governments, conducting them throughout, and finally completing them by the signature and ratification of a Treaty. But a Treaty may involve a large expenditure of the national funds, possibly stretching over a period of many years, or obligations of a most onerous and responsible kind, in the performance of which the whole country has the keenest and most direct interest. Thus, while saving the dignity and claims of the Royal Prerogative, Ministers are generally not averse to making Parliament share, from a very early moment in the course of the negotiations, in the responsibility attaching to the final settlement in which they may result. Parliament also, through its control of expenditure and other effective checks, can do much to prevent undue secresy and to arrest diplomatic action in which it has no part. Nevertheless, emergencies may arise, especially in reference to the issues of an imminent war or a possible peace, in which the tardy and uncertain course of referring to Parliament might render negotiations impossible, or precipitate the issue in a way by no means conducive to the national interests. In view of these emergencies, and of these only, the Boyal Prerogative of concluding treaties and declaring war may be justified in reason, and by the existing Constitution is justified in fact. But to use this Prerogative, not in order to provide for unforeseen crises, but to carry into effect a deliberately planned foreign policy, extending over many months and having a long series of closely connected links, without encountering the criticism or opposition of Parliament, is to strain the Prerogative to a use which, if frequently indulged in, must render it first deservedly unpopular, and then wholly out of harmony with constitutional government. It is a bare fact that during the progress of the British diplomatic movements which terminated in the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, or more properly in the Afghan war of that year, Parliament never had an opportunity of expressing its mind on any one of the important and complicated engagements to winch the country was being committed, or upon the policy of the war on the North-West frontier of India. The subjects were indeed over and over again discussed in Parliament, but always subsequent to irreparable action having been taken by the Government. The Convention which included the transfer to England of the administration of Cyprus, and the undertaking to guarantee in certain cases the immunity of the Turkish Asiatic possessions, reached to a number of indefinite and serious obbgations which were made binding on the country for an indefinite period of time to come. The position taken up at the Berlin Congress, and the wholly new startingpoint of policy in reference to the North-West frontier of India, were not the product of sudden emergencies for
Parliamentary Control of Finance. 389
which the Government was bound to provide before it had a chance of ascertaining the mind of Parliament, but were necessary steps in a uniform and integral policy which might have been communicated to Parliament months beforehand, and yet was sedulously, and on some occasions, it must be said, unscrupulously, veiled from it. Tims the constitutional conduct of the Government in this case must not be measured with reference to the habitual practice of submitting all important treaties to the judgment of the Houses before signature or ratification, because in the large majority of cases the Government has little to gain from privacy, and much to gain from casting a large share of its responsibility on Parliament. The conduct of the Government in such a case must rather be judged by reference to the question whether they have abused the prerogative by converting that right of secret diplomacy, which only exists and ought to be cherished on behalf of grave national crises when the last interests of the nation are at stake, into a means, fortunately happening to be at their disposal, for evading the legitimate scrutiny of Parliament in respect of matters in which the country has the profoundest interest, and for the right conduct of which the House of Commons is responsible to its constituents, and both Houses of Parliament to the country at large and to posterity.
(2.) The importance of checking the exercise of the Prerogative of the Crown in respect of financial affairs is not at present in much danger of being overlooked, though it may be doubted whether on the whole the check is as yet adequately applied. A financial policy is so closely connected with every other part of a general policy that if the latter is hasty, spasmodic, and secret, or if it is secret but deliberately calculated, in either case Parliament must experience a difficulty in obtaining from Ministers a plenary confidence as to the amount of supplies which will be needed throughout any particular session. Side by side with a policy of startling surprises in the region of foreign politics, there has grown up the practice of presenting supplementary Budgets almost up to the last day of the session. This practice has indeed been strongly denounced, and deservedly so, because Parliament is thereby forced to make grants under pressure partly of time and partly of necessity, and, in assenting to the scheme of taxation originally proposed, is likely to be led into financial mistakes through haviDg only a part of the whole case before it. Another serious danger proceeding from a reckless use of the Prerogative in the matter of originating a financial scheme for the year is liable to accrue, and does in fact accrue, from a disposition on the part of Ministers to raise money for the year's expenses rather by loan than by taxation. In this way, the pecuniary expense of an adventurous policy is lightly borne or entirely kept out of sight; and, did the practice become common, one of the most salutary checks on the irresponsible action of Ministers in the conduct of foreign affairs would be removed,— the blaze of national ascendency glittering in the eyes of the constituents of the dominant majority who support the Government, while the burdens and expenses which attend the winning of this ascendency have to be provided for by some Government of the future, and to be endured by the supporters of that Government in the country.
Parliamentary Control of the Army. 391
It is perhaps necessary to notice also that scarcely any Parliamentary check at present exists to prevent such wholesale commercial dealings on the part of the Government as are instanced in the purchase of the Suez Canal shares. It was just one of those cases in which the acquisition presented so many superficial attractions to the vulgar eye that, so soon as Parliamentary criticism was possible, the field was occupied by an unanalysed sense of universal approval. Yet the undoubted value of maintaining and securing the British rights over the use of the Canal could be wholly distinguished from the very questionable method actually pursued for this end. The policy of venturing the credit of the Government and the country in a commercial undertaking subjected to the commercial hazards and political chances incident to the foreign State which has a sovereign right over the whole undertaking and a proprietor's claim over the land and water to which it relates, might well be a matter for anxious Parliamentary discussion rather than for secret and autocratic decision.
(3.) Sufficient has almost been said in referring to the conduct of the British Government in summoning the Indian troops to Malta, in calling out the Reserve Forces, and in obtaining from Parliament a large vote of credit in view of possible military movements, during the progress of the negotiations leading up to the Congress of Berlin in 1878, to make it clear that Parliament has much to do to hold its own against the Ministers of the Crown in the matter of Army and Navy administration. It was at one time held that the management of the Army was the point of contest between the rival