« VorigeDoorgaan »
It would be respected just as little as the authority of the House of Lords is now respected; it would be overawed and overruled by popular movements and organised demonstrations. The Trades Union Congress met the other day and passed a series of resolutions calling upon Parliament to pass certain laws in the interest of the trades. If the Trades Unions were only a little stronger than they are, and had the House of Commons alone to deal with, they would make very short work of it. It would succumb before prejudice tempered by street parade,' just as the other authorities in the state have done. Already we see how much of its independence and its real power for usefulness the House of Commons has lost by becoming, in a great measure, the tool of the caucus and of public meetings. How very few representatives there are on either side of the House who can dare to exercise an independent judgement; they may almost be counted on the fingers, and hardly one of them can be considered to hold a secure seat. A man of ascertained position and of great personal authority, like Mr. Goschen, may play an independent part; but how many men can venture to follow him? There are not a few members on both sides of the House who agree with him in most of his opinions, who approve his moderation, who admire his courage and his honesty, and who would even prefer him as their leader to those whom they respectively follow. These men, if they dared, would support him; but they are well aware, and he is well aware, that support to him in opposition to the leaders of their respective parties could be given only at the sacrifice of their seats. Party discipline within the House, and pressure of the caucus without the House, are destructive of independence. There is no freedom where independence is thus warped; true freedom consists in government by free legal institutions mutually aiding and checking one another. Government by a pure democracy would become an intolerable tyranny, under which no man would dare to have an opinion of his own and act upon it. Already there are indications of this subserviency of the individual judgement and will to outside influence. Mechanical obedience is taking the place of independent action. There are two guarantees of freedom, and these are division of power and a certain amount of intelligent resistance. But the upholders of singlechamber government destroy the first, and the champions of a pure democracy would annihilate, as treason to the national will, the second.
If we could have a perfect Chamber of Representatives
which was at once in accord with, and independent of, the
rather than run the risk of increasing the difficulties of Parliamentary government. They abstain from speaking, and in consequence of their abstinence the mediocrities rush in. A list has been recently published of some fiftysix of these chattering delinquents,' men who monopolised 62 per cent. of Parliamentary time, and spoke 5,952 times among them in a single session--the session of 1883. There are not half-a-dozen men of real eminence in the whole band of them. It is the crotcheteers, the self-seekers, the hotheaded men of one idea, who consume the public time. It is not sobriety of judgement, intelligence, and patriotism which regulate the discussions in the Lower House; it is party feeling, and selfish individualism, and personal vanity which run rampant in the House of Commons, and bring contempt upon the proceedings of Parliament. Is it the case that gusts of popular passion pass over the Lower House and leave it unaffected; or is it not the fact that calm and rational consideration-whether of policy or of legislation is the exception; and hasty, slovenly, sometimes violent and impassioned measures-the result of outside agitation-the rule?
What is the chief complaint against the House of Commons? It is, that it is incapable of doing business in a business-like way. It is over-worked, and yet it is insatiable of work; its methods of procedure are antiquated, and yet it will not, or it cannot, amend them; it spends its time in unmeaning talk, and neglects the work which it has to do, or it does it at a time when calm consideration is impossible; it encourages, or at least it permits, the most insignificant and the most worthless of its members to consume its time, and, by obstructive tactics, to ruin its efficiency. And is there any probability that it will improve its methods and amend its conduct? As our system of representation,' said the Prime Minister in one of his Edinburgh speeches, becomes more popular, constituencies expect more from 'their members in the way of speaking; and there is a great 'addition which I cannot complain of--there is a great ad'dition in the bulk and number of speeches made on that ' account. These may be called a legitimate cause. But there is a very illegitimate cause, and that is that the deference, and I may say the reverence, with which fifty years ago every man entered that great assembly-the noblest deliberative assembly in the world-and the pre'paration of his mind to defer to the wish of that assembly as to the mode, time, and degree of his laying his opinions before it-that, gentlemen, has undergone a wonderful
'change.' Do we find that reverence for the noblest deliberative assembly in the world,' and 'that preparation of mind to defer to the wish of the assembly as to the mode, 'time, and degree of laying opinions before it' increase as time goes on? The Prime Minister speaks of the attitude of mind with which members entered the House of Commons half a century ago. Can it be said that that attitude of mind remains? Must it not be admitted that the reverence for, and deference to, the wish of the assembly has, during the last three Parliaments, become a diminishing quantity ? If you wish to make anything of yourself in this place,' said an old member to a newly-elected representative the other day if you wish to make anything of yourself you 'must discard the engaging diffidence of youth; you must ' consider yourself as good as the most experienced man in the place, and as capable of undertaking the biggest things as he is.' That is the spirit which actuates many of the representatives of the people's House. Each man is engaged in a struggle to make something, not of his country, but of himself; and he is encouraged to do so by his constituents, who feel a certain reflected glory in the something which their representative makes. Every man, even the youngest and most inexperienced, considers himself as good as any other man, and even better; and declines to show deference to, or respect for, age, or Parliamentary experience, or the authority of the House.
Such is, speaking generally, the character of the representative Chamber as at present constituted, and, as we have said, we see no probability of much improvement. Household suffrage in towns, though it has widened the basis and strengthened the operation of political power throughout the nation, has not improved the quality of the constituent elements of the people's House, nor has it enabled that House to do its work in workmanlike fashion. Whether the extension of household suffrage to the country will effect what household suffrage in the towns has failed to do remains to be seen; or, if that fails also, whether we shall attain to it by manhood or by universal suffrage. Be that as it may, the conclusion which we draw from these considerations is this: that we have not yet, at least, secured an ideal Chamber, and that it seems only too probable that a single Chamber elected by household or by manhood or by universal suffrage would resemble a French Convention, and would be dangerous to liberty, prosperity, and good government-perhaps even to political honesty and independence.
Having decided this question in the negative, we have
next to consider whether the hereditary House should continue, or whether a brand-new House of Notables is to be constituted, and if the latter, what is to be the nature of its constitution-is the hereditary element to be maintained? and, if so, in what proportion? Or if it is to be obliterated, is the new House to be nominated or elected, or partly nominated and partly elected, or is it to be partly hereditary, partly nominated, and partly elected? What are the main objections to an hereditary Upper Chamber such as the House of Lords? They are, put shortly, first, that it is not in sympathy with the people, and does not, and cannot, know what they want, or what they consider to be for the benefit of the nation; second, that it contains a large number of men who, by the accident of birth, are called upon to take a responsible part in the political life of the nation, but who have no aptitude or capacity for the work; third, that, consisting as it does almost exclusively of landowners, all questions are considered from the landlords' point of view, and are scrutinised from that point of view with something of the anxiety for the protection of class interests with which outside affairs are regarded by a body of trades' unionists; and fourth-and it is in this that the sting of the present agitation lies-that the influence and the power of the House are used, not for the good of the nation, but in the selfish interest of one party in the State; that, in short, the majority of the House of Lords has become a Conservative agency of the most powerful kind.
These are the four leading counts in the indictment against the House of Lords, but in all the tirades against the House of Lords with which we have become familiar of late, and even in the more temperate discussions on the subject, attention has been directed to one only of the functions of that assembly. Hostile critics fall foul of the House of Lords as regards their misdeeds in the matter of legislation only. They say -and this was the gist of Mr. Gladstone's veiled but suggestive attack-they say, 'See the number of Bills which this perverse body has delayed or thrown out during the last fifty years: Irish Municipal Reform delayed; Irish Land Bills postponed; Compensation for Disturbance Bills rejected; Jewish Disabilities thrown out ever so many times; Ballot Bill rejected; Franchise Bill effectually stopped. See, again, the number of Bills mutilated. Consider the necessity which active legislators experience in watering down their schemes so as suit the palate of the hereditary House.' These are, no doubt, serious charges; but, on other hand, is the elective Chamber immaculate? Do