Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 3 18 March 1970
The Case for a — Constitutional Monarchy
The Case for a
I am glad to accept the invitation of the Editor of Salient to express my views about constitutional aspects of the Monarchy. I assume that the Editor wishes me to discuss the British Monarchy because it is the only one of which we in New Zealand have an intimate knowledge and I believe that the opinions which I shall put forward are generally representative of those of members of the Constitutional Society who are spread throughout the Dominion.
To my mind the Monarchy as it has evolved for Great Britain, the dominions and the colonies is ideal for those countries. It is a great stabilising influence and it seems to me that the British Commonwealth is united under and behind the monarchy in a way that would be quite impossible if the Head of State of all those countries were a political figure. After all, the Commonwealth countries represent almost all possible political shades of opinion in completely independent states which are governed by widely differing political parties. Yet almost all acknowledge loyalty to the Crown as a fundamental part of their political system.
In Britain itself the Labour and Conservative parties are bitterly opposed to each other on many questions, yet the leaders of each party when in power pay due deference to the Monarch. The Prime Minister has a weekly audience with the Monarch to outline the intentions of the Government. At these private audiences it is impossible to tell how much influence the Monarch—whether it be a Queen or a King—exercises, but history suggests that the Monarchy has had a modifying influence on a number of occasions when a political party has sought to go beyond the mandate which it has received from the people at a general election.
In New Zealand, the people see the Monarch all too seldom, but her representative, the Governor-General, is always with us and exercising her functions, except during the brief period between the terms of office of Governors-General, when it is customary for the Chief Justice to act for the Monarch.
In exercising its right of self-determination this Dominion has chosen to depart from the original concept of the form of government granted to New Zealand by the Imperial power. Under the Constitution Act of 1852 it was laid down that there should be a legislature consisting of the Governor (as he was then known) and two Houses of Parliament with power to make laws, provided that they were not repugnant to the laws of the United Kingdom. The Government in office in 1950 chose to abolish the second House of Parliament, the Legislative Council. It should not be thought that departures from the established system of government pass unnoticed by the Monarchy.
As Speaker of the House of Representatives Sir Matthew Oram visited London a few months later for the opening ceremonies of the new House of Commons which replaced the one destroyed by bombing during the war. Among the events during that visit was a dinner at Buckingham Palace in honour of all the visiting Speakers of their countries' legislatures. The host was, of course, the late King George VI.
As soon as the introductions were over the King sought out Sir Matthew and questioned him closely about the reasons for New Zealand abolishing its Second Chamber of Parliament. He appeared startled, almost shocked, that a government of the type then in office should do such a thing. Sir Matthew could only say, as had been said persuasively, almost insincerely, in the New Zealand Parliament, that "something better" would be put in place of the Legislative Council.
It is interesting to speculate that if the King had been resident in New Zealand and in constant communication with his Prime Minister in this country could he have exercised his influence, based on the wide constitutional knowledge of the Royal Family, to modify what has proved to be one of the most serious constitutional actions of our New Zealand Parliament.
Governors-General are selected for their eminence in some service or professional career, but they cannot be expected to assimilate all the constitutional knowledge possessed by a family which has ruled for centuries. For this reason there is more than passing interest in a recent suggestion that the Monarchy should reside for a time in each of the dominions, or even act as Governor-General in one dominion while the heir apparent gains experience in the duties which should one day be his.
On this aspect, a striking example of the lamentable state of our New Zealand Constitution is the fact that when the Monarch was expected to visit New Zealand for the first time in history, Parliament was advised that there was no place in the Constitution for the Monarch to act on suchan occasion as the formal opening of Parliament. Consequently the House of Representatives had to pass hastily in 1953 the Royal Powers Act which, in effect, provides that anything that the Governor-General can do the Queen also can do. This is surely a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
I am convinced that a return to the original constitutional concept for New Zealand is long overdue. The restoration of a Second Chamber of Parliament should be one of the first duties to be tackled by our political leaders: the Constitution will then be in balance once again, and we will be able to fully benefit from our Monarchical form of Government.
Editor's note: Sir James' article has been edited through the omission of several paragraphs relsting to the Second Chamber question.