A Council of State for the Empire.
Nelson, N.Z. Alfred G. Betts, Printer, Hardy Street.
A short explanation is needed as to how the following article came to appear in its present form of a pamphlet. It was originally written as a special article and posted from Nelson to a newspaper in N.Z. on the 21st of February last. It lay quiescent in the office of that paper for no less than seven weeks, after which time I wrote enquiring and got a reply which did not seem satisfactory. In the meantime the world was moving and I felt that I was getting into a very false and unjust position. Among other things the Premier on the 10th of April at a banquet in Wellington, for the first time, so far as I know, propounded the idea of an Imperial Council. This it will be seen is just the leading idea of my article lying bewitched in the newspaper office. Mr. Seddon's first idea among his suggestions for the Conference in London was a periodical Conference of Colonial Premiers. Of course this suggestion at the banquet was a mere coincidence. But I became more dissatisfied about my enchanted article and in two telegrams claimed its return. This, after some delay was done, after eight weeks to a day, on 18th April, the editor saying that he only wanted to keep it "a few weeks "more, which I tnought was very curious. But I offered to return it if he would publish it without further delay, which he declined to do.
I then offered it after full explanation to another editor in another town, who undertook to deal with it at once. It was posted accordingly from Nelson on 24th April, and lo! the moment it entered the second office it was again bewitched. I could on writing get no account of it, and after some three weeks of further enchantment I finally got it back after two demands on the 19th of May.
Truly I am puzzled and enchanted, not knowing what to think. Let me hope that the article will now do some of the good it aimed at, and that when the Premier of N.Z. comes to deliver his views at the great Conference in London there will be a still more exact coincidence of these views with the ideas of this pamphlet. I shall then be still more enchanted.
Be it noted that neither of these editors rejected the article as a contribution, they only kept it safe bewitched as mentioned.
J. H. S. Nelson,New Zealand.
A Council of State for the Empire
"The Roman Senate was the noblest organ of the nation, and in consistency and political sagacity, in unanimity and patriotism, in grasp of power and unwavering courage, the foremost political corporation of all times."—(Mommsen.)
An article published by me some months ago in N.Z. on "Parliamentary Government and the Empire" was destructive and negative in tendency and method, that is, it attacked existing institutions. And as there is always a fair presumption against political change as such, those who attack ought not only to accept the burden of proof of the need of change, but also be prepared to suggest something else in the room of what they propose to remove.
The following propositions, I think, strike the key note of all that is needful to say, at least from the colonial standpoint, on this important subject.
|1.||A great modification in the system of government of the Empire must come and come quickly.|
|2.||I think this great change will take the form of some radical modification of the ancient and legal organ of our Government, the Privy Council.|
|3.||This must be accompanied by some fundamental modification of the power of the House of Commons in Imperial concerns.|
And truly since I first wrote a change has come quickly so far at least as the stage of discussion is concerned. It has come with a rush; in the magazines currently arriving many articles deal more or less directly with the subject. These of course are in their proposals as various as the minds of writers of them. But, however, else they may differ they seem to agree pretty generally in two points, first that the existing system has broken down, that in fact it is doomed, and secondly that the Empire is endangered. It is clear that in whatever change may be made or whatever new organ of State may be created the Colonies must be represented. It therefore behoves us to be moving betimes, and to put our ideas in some sort of form in order that we may know our minds, and see clearly what we want, so as to join effectively and fruitfully in the coming discussion. To this purpose I propose to devote a few reflections which I may say are not the ephemeral growth of yesterday or the day before or entertained in the spirit of a political poseur. After a residence of some 45 years in this and another colony, and as it is a matter to which I have devoted special attention I think I may venture to do this much without presumption. To me then it seems clear that the existing Privy Council might without any violent legal or political wrench, be re-constituted so as to make it into a Great Imperial Council of State which must contain representatives from all the constituent parts of the Empire, whatever may be the particular forms of their local institutions, self-governing or not. I use the term "representative" in a general sense and I wish carefully to guard myself against suggesting anything like popular election in such a serious matter as this is. To allow the "arbitrium popularis auræ," the fickle reek of popular breath, to intrude into such an arena would be in my view nothing short of fatal. By whatever means or whatever channel or on whatever principle these representatives came to this great Council this mode of entry ought to be from the first and resolutelv precluded.
On what principle then ought this great State Council to be constituted? To this question history has I think, furnished to us an answer at once clear, fruitful and light-bringing. Of all the Councils of State, advisory or executive or both, which ever existed in the course of political history I believe that the greatest, the wisest and the most generally successful was the Senate of ancient Rome. In the constitution of that great State Council we will in my opinion find the best and surest pattern of our new state organ for the government of the Empire. On what principal and by what mode of appointment was this illustrious council constituted? First then, it was not in any right page 3 sense elected at all, perhaps we may say it was appointed. It was permanent, subject to the revision every five years by the Cenors. It was primarily and in theory advisory to the Curule Magistrates of the State, Consuls, Praetors, &c., but it became in course of time and in practice the most powerful deliberative and administrative body in the Roman state. It was a chamber of statesmen consisting of all those who had filled high offices, who had negociated treaties, commanded armies or fleets; of all living public men who had passed through any important political office or employment. Here in my opinion we have the finest model for that Imperial Council which I firmly believe will before the lapse of much time, be entrusted with the government of this great empire. Without going into details of its procedure I may here note that there was no such thing in the Roman Senate as what we now mean by "debate," there was therefore no room for artful dodging and to the everlasting honour, safety and glory of the Roman State, there were no able Parliamentarians. Each Senator on being called upon, in accordance with fixed rules of procedure, by the Presiding Magistrate, for his opinion delivered it accordingly. But if there was no able Parliamentarian, there was something far grander. Imagine the "assembly of Kings." What dignity! What Majesty! A Cato a Scipio, a Fabius, a Julius, called on for his opinion, and as the weighty words calmly fall from his lips carrying the prestige of a great life of public service, what an impression! What "auctoritas"! He knows well and all know the words are not idle terms of debate, but are to issue in serious action, to make their mark perhaps in history and on men's minds and lives through the ages. Is there any grander scene in the records of man? No wonder that Rome was great! No wonder that her thoughts and deeds and works made deep and abiding mark on this round globe, still visible, yea, living to this our day.
Following the pattern of the Roman Senate we can not have much difficulty in looking for the materials—the men who ought to compose the Council. These ought to be all who are or have been Chief Justices, or heads of any of the superior courts of law either in the United Kingdom or in any colony. All who have for a specified term of years filled the office of puisne judge. All who have held any Cabinet office for a specified term of years, including those who have been for said term, Premiers of self-governing colonies. All who have filled the office of Commander-in-Chief. All Governor's General of India or of British America, or of the Australian Commonwealth. All who have been Governors of Colonies for, say, five years. All who had been for a term of years permanent Under-Secretaries of State page 4 and so on. The Premiers of self-governing colonies ought in my opinion to be clearly disqualified for the Imperial Council while they continue in office as such. But I think that all existing Agents General and all who have been such ought certainly to be "ex officio" members of the Council. It will be seen that this enumeration is merely tentative and suggestive of the mode of application of the principle above stated. This may be varied, expanded or restricted as may appear expedient. But on one point I am clear and decided; that is, that from this Council every breath of popular suffrage, of applause or dispraise ought to be rigidly excluded. The Statesmen of the Council ought, like Zeus of old "in purest air abiding" to whom King Agamemnion prayed before Troy to live in a region far above the clouds and heats of party passions, and prejudices. Proceeding on this principie and inspired, and elevated by this spirit we may hope to have and I strongly believe we can have an Imperial Council of men in spirit, aims and capacities worthy to tread in the steps of the Roman Senate, and equal to the administration of our world wide empire. The main lines of this enumeration I may here note have been taken from a proposal made many years ago by Mr. J. S. Mill for a reconstitution of the House of Lords.
I come now to the third point above noted at the head of this paper which is, without doubt the one which will present real difficulty, great and possibly fierce divergence of view and opinion; I mean how as a part, an essential, nay an absolutely indispensable part of an Imperial scheme are you to modify the power of the House of Commons in Imperial concerns? This is the true crux and hinge of the whole business, and any one proposing any plan of Imperial reform must be prepared to meet the difficulty with some definite measure.
I think, however, that even this difficulty, when courageously faced is not quite so insurmountable as at first sight it seems. There is, in my opinion only one way of overcoming the difficulty and that is by simply going back to legal first principles of the Constitution and removing the King's Ministers, or at least those of them who deal with Imperial interests, from the House of Commons and confining them to the Privy or Imperial Council where originally they belonged, nay where necessarily and by law they belong now. Both in Britain and in self-governing Colonies, Cabinet Ministers holding legal offices are members in the one case of the Privy Council and in the other of the Executive Council. This course, with more or less completeness, must be taken; but so long as you leave the King's Ministers in the Commons House, and expose them to the wild page 5 and capricious gales of its party disputes you never will escape from the curse of party government. If an Imperial organ of government is to be constructed in the mode and on the principles here advocated this course must be taken. But this once accomplished I would then leave the Parliament to its proper function of legislation and criticism, and generally to the local business of the Kingdon. It is hardiy necessary to refer to the fact that Ministers are by the American Constitution excluded from sitting in Congress. But this policy is by no means a novelty in British legislation. In 1693-4 a Bill was passed to the effect that no member subsequently elected should accept any office under the Crown; but King William refused his royal assent. Again the Act of Settlement by clause 6 enacted that "no person who has an office or place of profit, under the King or receives a pension from the Crown shall be capable of serving as a member of the House of Commons," This not suiting the purposes of certain politicians was repealed in 1705, and in 1707 was passed the absurd law (still I believe in force) making distinction as to disability between offices created before or after October 25th, 1705.
Again in reigns of Geo. II. and Geo. III. various acts were passed with the same object of excluding office holders from the House.
My plan therefore is not at all or in any sense legal or political, an innovation.
A proposal substantially the same was some forty years ago criticised unfavourably by an eminent thinker, Mr. J. S. Mill. And assuredly in my mind this criticism furnishes one of the most glaring instances showing how valueless, fallacious, and misleading are arguments "a priori "when applied even by intellects of the highest order and power to cases liable to be corrected by "a posteriori" considerations arising from the general progress of the world and the march of history.
Truly man's power of forecasting the changes wrought by only some forty years is very small and very feeble indeed! To make this very curious and important case clear I will quote even at expense of some space Mr. Mills language. "It has been proposed that the powers of our own as well as of Colonial Parliaments should be confined to internal policy, and that there should be another representative body for foreign and Imperial concerns in which last the dependencies of Great Britain should be represented in the same manner, and with the same completeness as Great Britain itself. On this system there would then be a perfectly equal federation between the mother country and her colonies, then no longer dependencies."page 6
He then proceeds to criticise this proposal declaring the suggestions to be "so inconsistent with rational principles of government that it is doubtful if they have been seriously accepted as a possibility by any reasonable thinker."
Let me classify the grounds on which he founds this conclusion which bulks in our eyes, with our wider experience and the progress of only 40 years, as so extraordinary and even childish.
|1.||Countries separated by half the globe do not present the natural conditions for being under one government, or even members of one federation.|
|2.||They have not the same interests; they have not and never can have a sufficient habit of taking council together; they are not part of the same public.|
|3.||They do not discuss and deliberate in the same arena but apart.|
|4.||They have an imperfect knowledge of what passes in the minds of one another, and neither know each other's objects nor have confidence in each other's principles of conduct.|
|5.||England is sufficient for her own protection without the colonies and would be in a stronger and more dignified position seperated from them than when reduced to be a single member of an American, African and Australian Federation.|
|6.||Over and above questions of commerce England derives little advantage, except in prestige from her dependencies and that little is quite outweighed by the expense they cost her.|
It may be said generally of these arguments that they smack strongly of the Manchester school, and that they only need be clearly stated to be scouted in the clearer light and the changed conditions of our time. The improved steam navigation and the ocean cables have deprived head No. 1 of any force whatever.
Heads Nos. 2, 3, and 4 are curious indeed coming from the great author of Mill's Logic, for without doubt they plainly beg the whole question; how are they to take council together, discuss and deliberate in the same arena without an oragnic institution wherein to do so? This would be the function of the Imperial Council. The statement is even now not quite true thanks to the press and the quick transit and the ocean cables. Heads 5 and 6 have been triumphantly answered by the Boer page 7 war, and what is going on before our own eyes in the colonies sending off their young manhood to protect the Empire. And these are the criticisms of a man who only some 30 years ago was in the world of economic and political discussion little short of a recognised despot! It must be here noted that in the passage quoted above the words "representative" and "represented " must, I take it, have been used by Mill in the same general sense in which I have above employed the same term and not as embodying any form of popular suffrage which as I said before is foreign and repugnant to the entire substance of my pattern of an Imperial Council. Of course all that class of so-called Imperial Legislation would have to go with the foreign and Imperial business proposed to be withdrawn from the existing Parliament, and dealt with exclusively by the Imperial Council; that is part of the plan. The House of Commons and the Lords would be left to deal as they liked and on any plan they pleased with the internal concerns of the United Kingdom. "But," says some one, "you would reduce the Houses to be a mere sort of local bodies or parish councils without dignity or any fit arena for large talents and capacities; you would leave no statesmen of high and commanding ability! "I answer, not so; I would leave the talking, perorating gentlemen, to orate and perorate to their hearts content, but I would deprive them of the power of doing mischief; and I would at the same time provide a wider, higher sphere for the statesmen of higher order who, as things are now ordered, are, as I said, in the paper first mentioned, lost to the nation and the Empire.
It will be seen that on this plan and on these principles, very little change is proposed in the legal constitution of the Kingdom. An ancient but still surviving and vital and virile organ ot that constitution is seized upon and it is proposed not to revolutionise any principle at all, but to modify, reconstitute, and enlarge its sphere of usefulness and as it were, still further to vitalise its vitality. This is not in any proper sense revolution; it is the highest and wisest order of conservative statesmanship. And here I may fittingly bring in the magestic language of the greatest of all philosophic statesmen to throw its golden weight and splendour on the theme.
"Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world, and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts, wherein by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole at one time is never old, or middle-aged, or young, but in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves page 8 on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by perserving the method of nature in the conduct of the State, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete."
Thus wrote, more than one hundred years ago, the imperial genius of Edmund Burke, and so in treating the State as a living organism I have tried in this paper, to follow with steps unequal "a constitutional policy working after the pattern of nature." Let me hope that this attempt may not be without some little usefulness in preparing our minds for the great change which must, I repeat, come before a long interval in the government of this Empire.
I am convinced that, whatever may be the immediate results of the great Conference on the Political relation of the Colonies to the Empire, the path here opened up is the path which will in the long run lead to a permanent and satisfuctory settlement of a difficult and dangerous condition of things.