Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 67

Imperial Federation

page break

Imperial Federation.

London: P. S. King & Son, King Street, Westminster, S.W. 1887.

page break
page break

Prefatory Remarks.

The chief objections against Imperial Federation, so far as I can gather them, consist in two general allegations—first, its impracticability; and, secondly, its undesirability, chiefly on the ground of its undue interference with self-government in many Colonies.

Impracticability is an argument which has often been urged, and fortunately urged in vain, against great movements. It is not so long ago that ocean steam voyages and steam locomotive railways and Colonial self-government were pronounced impracticable. That argument will, I am confident, become "small by degrees and beautifully less," as full consideration and discussion of the subject in all its aspects proceeds. The chief advocate of the second argument is Mr. John Bright. He is actuated by tenderness towards Colonies. He is afraid that by Imperial Federation they would become involved in the warlike foreign policy of the United Kingdom. He seems to forget that they are already involved in British foreign policy, and under most unfavourable conditions. They are now forced to bear the consequences of that foreign policy, without any voice in its determination and in its conduct. Apart from the case of actual war, which would probably be most disastrous to them, they are more or less sufferers from mistakes and shortcomings on the part of the Imperial Government in foreign affairs. Surely, it would be better for the Colonies, and more in accordance with page 4 constitutional principles, if the Colonies had a due share of self-government in Imperial matters, as well as local self-government, even at the cost of a due share in Imperial taxation for Imperial purposes. But, as Mr. Bright plainly hints, the Colonies are at liberty to part from the Empire and to float [unclear: int] space. True; and in that reminder lies the whole question, Mr. Bright does not dislike the idea of the disruption of the British Empire; while those who advocate Imperial Federstion wish to preserve the integrity of that Empire. Argument as to the best means of union is of course lost on those [unclear: wh] care nothing about that union. The centre of controversy, in that case, is shifted elsewhere, and other arguments [unclear: a] necessary. In the following pamphlet I have taken as granted the advantage of securing the unity of the Empire.

W. Gisborne.

page break

Imperial Federation.

My object is to sketch, in rough outline, a scheme for giving practical effect to the great principle of Imperial Federation.

I am not so presumptuous as to think for a moment that any such scheme can at once be adopted and brought into operation. I venture, with great diffidence, to make these suggestions in order to indicate the direction in which, according to my view, efforts should be made to work towards the attainment of the object in view. I also hope, in a small way, to contribute towards that general discussion which must always precede the satisfactory solution of great political problems.

I begin by stating what I mean by Imperial Federation,

I refer, first, to self-governing Colonies in relation to the United Kingdom, not only because popular discussion of the subject is generally conducted in that sense, but also because I am of opinion that, if once the practical question can be satisfactorily settled in the case in question, there will remain comparatively little difficulty in completing the settlement with respect to Crown Colonies, and even to India. I shall not, however, specially refer in this pamphlet to the ease of India, as the principle applicable, for my present purpose, to Crown Colonies, would, with more or less modification in details, apply to India.

Taking, then, into consideration the relation of self-governing Colonies (I use the term in its popular sense) to the United Kingdom, I look upon Imperial Federation as the complement of colonial self-government as at present existing, inasmuch as it would add to colonial representative institutions that representative system, which is now wanting in them, in Imperial affairs as distinguished from local affairs. It is not necessary to corroborate the latter assertion by lengthened argument. I need only to refer to the familiar instance of Imperial foreign affairs. Those affairs materially affect each Colony in its important interests, both during peace page 6 and during war, but during war especially. And yet the management of those affairs exclusively rests, so far as the Colonies are concerned, in the hands of the Imperial Parliament and of the Imperial Cabinet, in neither of which the Colonies have any representative voice. It is no justification to say that the Colonies do not bear any share of the expenditure necessary to the conduct of foreign affairs. In the first place, that argument is merely an attempt to justify one anomaly by quoting the existence of another. Constitutional principle, as well as common sense, seems to me to require that in those matters of joint concern the United Kingdom and the Colonies should have fair proportionate shares of common representative authority, and bear fair proportionate shares of common necessary expenditure. Secondly, in practice, this one-sided management of foreign affairs entails on Colonies considerable, and, in case of war between England and a great naval power, would entail enormous special expenditure. The reasonable complaint on the part of the Colonies is that that entailment is unconstitutional, spasmodic, and irregular; and that, owing to the want of combination and system, the expenditure is disproportionate in its incidence, wasteful in its results, and in other respects unsatisfactory. It would be easy to multiply eases in which, in other Imperial foreign affairs, similar disadvantages, in more or less degree, result to the Colonies, from the deprivation of their constitutional share in the management of Imperial affairs as distinguished from local affairs And it would be easy to illustrate the evils of this disability in the case of other than foreign affairs of Imperial kind. But such addition would not, I think, add to the force of what I have already adduced, which, if unrefuted, is, I think conclusive. The Colonies are recognised as Colonial adults but they are still treated as Imperial infants. Imperial Federation, as I hold it to mean, would remedy that anomalous defect, by giving to the Colonies their proportionate constitutional share in the control and in the responsibilities of strictly Imperial affairs. Under that system, the Colonies would not interfere in the home affairs of the United Kingdom any more than the home Government of the United Kingdom would interfere in the local affairs of the Colonies Mainly, what Imperial Federation is, according to my view, meant to secure, is an Imperial Parliament in which, so far as Imperial affairs are concerned, the United Kingdom and the Colonies should, in fair proportions, be jointly represented.

Before I proceed, it may be as well to take a few moments page 7 to consider another aspect of Imperial Federation which finds favour with many. That aspect represents an opinion that the United Kingdom and the Colonies should rather go forward step by step towards unity and consolidation (the ultimate object in view) under their existing mutual relations, by means of common sympathy, and by negotiation, as circumstances may call for from time to time, than begin by changing the existing political system of Imperial Government into one more conformable to constitutional principles, and afterwards take that amended system as the new point of departure. No doubt, much may be said in favour of gradual progress towards unity and consolidation, under existing political relations between the United Kingdom and the Colonies; but I hold that the other plan is preferable, both in respect of force argumentatively, and in respect of its probable issue in practical good. What is the present system that governs the political relations between the United Kingdom and the Colonies in Imperial affairs? It is one which, setting aside its unconstitutional and one-sided character, necessarily tends to procrastination, to misunderstanding, to partial and precarious settlement of important questions, and to great waste of power and of means. For instance, negotiations between the Ministry of the United Kingdom and the Ministers of, say, a dozen colonies, are often necessary on subjects of joint interest in important respects. These negotiations are, from the necessities of their nature, as bitter experience has often shown, always protracted, nearly always fruitless, and seldom satisfactory. The Colonies concerned have no constitutional representatives in England; their agents, when they have any, have, able as they may be, no constitutional status, and are merely convenient channels of communication; the Colonies have no means of prompt personal conference with each other; their Ministers are continually changing. The Imperial Government is also under great disadvantage in negotiating with the Colonies. That disadvantage mainly is the necessary consequence of the anomalous political relation which the United Kingdom holds towards the Colonies in Imperial affairs. There is no community of power and responsibility between the two parties. There are joint interests, but the means of promoting them are, in the constitutional sense, divided and discordant. The normal result of these anomalous conditions on both sides—often aggravated as they are by apathy in some cases, and by the more engrossing character of local interests, and by other causes—is that in these Imperial page 8 negotiations a sort of agreement is patched up with a few of the Colonies concerned, and that the settlement of large questions is, if I may use a vulgar but expressive term "scamped." As a natural consequence, in most cases more harm than good is done, and in no case are the guarantees of satisfactory settlement—namely, fairness, fixity, and the greatest good of the greatest number—secured. So long as the present system of political relations in respect of Imperial affairs exists between the United Kingdom and the Colonies, it seems to me that any superstructure built upon it has only a foundation of sand. Nor can I see any reasonable prospect of arriving at a sound and permanent system of Imperial Federation by what is called gradual progress towards it on the basis of existing political relations between the United Kingdom and the Colonies. Progress under those conditions would, I believe, be an illusion; it would be merely movement in a vicious circle.

It is also very questionable, in my opinion, whether federation of groups of colonies, as between themselves, on certain matters of common interest, tends towards Imperial Federation. In the case of an Incorporating Federation like that of the Dominion of Canada, there is no doubt that, in the practical consideration of the subject of Imperial Federation the Legislature of the Dominion could conveniently and authoritatively, if the provinces wished it to do so, represent their opinion on that subject. But that could not easily be done in the case of the recent federation of some of the Colonies of Australasia: a federation which merely enables common legislation on certain subjects to be effected. At all events, the question of Colonial Federation is, in its scope and character, altogether a distinct question. And it is quite possible, as lately in the ease of New Zealand, that the Colonial House of Representatives should be averse to Colonial Federation, and, at the same time, be favourable to Imperial Federation.

No doubt, Imperial Federation, according to my view of it, would, if adopted, involve a vast political change. It would make the Imperial Parliament become in fact what its name implies; it would divest it of home functions; and it would confine it exclusively to Imperial functions; and it would so far change its constitution as to make the House of Commons consist of representatives, in due proportions, elected by constituencies in the United Kingdom and in the respective Colonies. But it must be borne in mind that at most the change would be page 9 one on the ancient ways of constitutional principles. Representation and responsibility would go together, hand in hand. There would not be an arbitrary revolution, but merely a natural development of the British Constitution. The legitimate consequences of constitutional practice would naturally ensue. There would be constitutional security for the consolidation and good government of the British Empire. Of course, it is absurd to argue that a perfect system would be attained. But it would be the best system with which, as Englishmen, we are acquainted, because it would be in general accord with our representative system of domestic government. We should thus be the better able to grapple with its incidental disadvantages, and to secure its general outcome of good. This, at least, may be admitted, that, until a better system of government than that founded on constitutional principles practically known to us all has been devised, we may well be content to apply those principles to our Imperial system.

Having explained what I mean by the term "Imperial Federation," and having stated the reasons which induce me to think that its establishment in that sense would be the best solution of the problem of Federation of the Colonies and the Mother Country, I proceed to consider the question of formulating a working plan for the attainment of that object. It is of course necessary for me to confine myself to general principles, for it is obviously impossible within the limits of this paper, and it would be absurd on other grounds, to attempt to go into details. Careful and lengthened consultation between all parties concerned would be indispensable before details could be fitted into any general plan. All that I can possibly hope to do, and that imperfectly, is to suggest the general I basis of a practical working plan. Where principles have been adopted, it may, as a general rule, be reasonably anticipated that their reduction to practice, although often an arduous and a lengthened work, will not prove to be an insuperable difficulty.

There are two indispensable conditions which, according to my view, underlie and are at the root of the plan, the principles of which I venture to suggest. The first of these conditions is that the assent and hearty co-operation of the Mother Country and the Colonies must be enlisted in favour of those principles. The foundation of the plan must be the strong and earnest wish of all concerned to work together in making it practically a real and complete consolidation of the Empire. It would be worse than useless to try to force it on page 10 reluctant, or even indifferent, communities. The second of these conditions is that, when the Federation has once been established, secession cannot, in any case, be allowed, or, at all events, without the unanimous previous consent of the whole Federal body.

Subject to the two foregoing conditions, the following are the principles on which I would suggest that a practical working plan for Imperial Federation should be founded:—
1The existing Imperial Parliament, that is to say, Parliament as at present constituted, should devise and set into motion, as it thought best, machinery for local or home self-government in the United Kingdom.
2Effect having been given to the foregoing principle, the Imperial Parliament should re-constitute the House of Commons, so that the House should consist of members duly elected by their respective constituencies, fairly representing in such proportions as may be fixed in the manner hereinafter stated, the United Kingdom and the several Colonies.
3Leading men from the Colonies to be, from time to time, as the Crown thought fit, raised to the Peerage, and to have seats in the House of Lords.
4The Imperial Parliament, when thus reconstructed should confine itself exclusively to Imperial functions, to be defined as hereinafter mentioned; and should have power of taxation and appropriation, on the basis, as regards taxation, hereinafter indicated, for the practical discharge of those functions. All other functions, not defined as Imperial functions to be left to the local legislatures.
5The proportionate representation to be first allocated to the United Kingdom and to the respective Colonies in the reconstructed House of Commons, and the principle which should govern the subsequent regulation of that apportionment to be jointly agreed upon by the Imperial Parliament as at present constituted, and by the legislature of each Colony Any change thereafter in that principle to be in like manner agreed upon by the reconstructed Imperial Parliament and by the Colonial legislatures.
6The definition of Imperial functions to be jointly agreed upon by the Imperial Parliament as at present constituted and by the legislature of each Colony. Any subsequent change in that definition, whether by subtraction from or addition to it, or otherwise, to be agreed upon jointly by the reconstructed Imperial Parliament and by the Colonial legislatures.page 11
7The basis of proportionate taxation by the reconstructed Imperial Parliament as between the several parts of the Empire represented in that Parliament should be originally determined jointly by the Imperial Parliament as at present constituted, and by the legislature of each Colony; and, should it be at any time proposed that a change in any way in the principle of that basis should be made, before any change takes place, it should be agreed to jointly by the reconstructed Imperial Parliament and by the legislature of each Colony.
8Administration of Imperial affairs to be conducted on the system of responsible government.
9Before any steps are taken in the direction hereinbefore indicated, a Conference of Delegates, appointed for the purpose by the Imperial Parliament and by the several Legislatures of the Colonies, should be assembled in London or elsewhere, in order to discuss and consider, as fully as possible, the principles suggested, and to make any recommendations in connection therewith, or otherwise, for public consideration.
10The apportionment of members of that Conference, as between the United Kingdom and each Colony to be on such basis, of population or otherwise, as may be mutually agreed upon by the Imperial Government and the respective Governments of the Colonies.

A few remarks on some of the principles which I have here enumerated may tend to remove possible misconception on some points.

Principle four seems to limit the supremacy of the reconstructed Imperial Parliament, but I do not intend it to do so. It is, I hold, impossible for the Imperial Parliament, as at present existing, to divest itself, either in its present or in any altered shape, of its intrinsic supremacy. In a technical, or legal, point of view, it has power to give, and at any time to resume what has been given by its transfer of authority. In that sense all authority which it gives is in fact delegated. But for practical purposes the distinction is, in many cases, not one of importance. Usage is an essential factor in the working of the British Constitution. Practically there is no appreciable risk that the existing Imperial Parliament should ever tax the Colonies, or revoke representative government granted to Colonies, or interfere in their local affairs, although jurists may hold that, strictly speaking, the Imperial Parliament has inalienable authority to do these things. page 12 Similarly, in the present case, should the constitution and functions of the Imperial Parliament be specifically changed as I have suggested, there would, if we may judge by the light of experience, be ample guarantee that, in practice, the reconstructed Imperial Parliament would confine itself to Imperial functions, and would leave the local legislatures to the free exercise of their local functions. The power of the Crown, which exists at present, and in which I propose no change, in reference to acts of Colonial legislatures, would be a substantial check on any excess or abuse of any local powers, Moreover, it is quite conceivable that, in the public interests of all, the latent supremacy of the Imperial Parliament may from time to time be advantageously invoked by all the local bodies, to remedy defects, to remove obstacles, or in other ways to facilitate the advantageous working of the whole system,

With respect to principles five and six, the definitions of proportionate representation and of Imperial functions, it seems to me only just that, in the first definitions respectively, the previous consent of the local bodies should be obtained; and that any subsequent change in the definition of the principle governing proportionate representation, or in the list of Imperial functions, should be previously agreed to by those bodies. Of course, in the present use of the term local bodied, I include the local representation of the United Kingdom. In the case of the first definition, that particular representation would be comprised in the Imperial Parliament as at present constituted.

Principle seven requires the previous assent of the local bodies (that term being used as in the last preceding paragraph) to the basis of proportionate taxation which the Imperial Parliament will have power to impose. I mean by this limitation that the principle of the basis of proportionate taxation, whether according to population, or according to revenue, or according to any other standard, or standards, and whether it should be uniform, or exceptional in certain cases, should be first agreed to by the local bodies; and that, subsequently, any change in the principle, or principles, of that basis should be agreed to in like manner.

I attach considerable importance to principle nine—namely the preliminary assembling of a representative conference, is order that it may discuss and consider the plan proposed, among others which may be forthcoming, in all its branches. The conference would be merely empowered to make recommendations for public consideration, but the deliberations of page 13 that body, and its proposals, would, of themselves, be most useful in tending to bring difficult and complicated questions to practical and satisfactory issues.

I wish to add that I leave untouched the term of existence of Parliament and all the prerogatives of the Crown.

This proposed plan of Imperial Federation, the leading principles of which I have here sketched, refers solely, as I premised at first, to the United Kingdom and the self-governing Colonies. It, therefore, remains for consideration whether the plan could be extended so as to include Crown Colonies. The characteristic feature of the Governments of Crown Colonies is that the Crown, more or less, predominates in the constitution of their legislatures; and that, in all cases, the executive functions are practically discharged by the Governor himself, subject to instructions from the Crown, and independently of his advisers, who are not, in the constitutional sense of the term, responsible Ministers. Bearing this fact in mind, I consider that it would be anomalous to vest the election of federal members for Crown Colonies in the inhabitants of those colonies. So long as they are not entitled to elect representatives for the management of local affairs, they cannot properly be entitled to elect representatives in a federal body for the management of Imperial affairs. But it seems to me that their respective legislatures, however constituted, may justly be empowered to elect Members for Crown Colonies to the Imperial Parliament.

There is, however, in connection with this subject, an important question which should be borne in mind with respect to the allotment of the proportionate number of members for each Crown Colony. The Crown, at present, has a dominant voice in legislation and in administration in Crown Colonies. Moreover, under the suggested plan of Imperial Federation, the Crown would be one of the estates of the Imperial Parliament, or, to state the case more accurately, the Crown would bear the same relation as it bears at present to the Imperial Parliament. It is accordingly, in my view, only a sound and just conclusion, that the measure of proportion which should regulate the number of Federal Members for each Crown Colony, ought to be on a smaller scale than that in the case of self-governing Colonies; and that this smailer scale should be graduated lower, as the governing power of the Crown in each Crown Colony happened to be greater.

These conditions may, I think, be so adapted as to enable page 14 Crown Colonies, possibly, even if that term should comprise what are in fact mere military possessions, to be included in the proposed plan of Imperial Federation.

I submit this imperfect sketch of the principles on which, as I venture to think, a practical working plan for the Federation of the Mother Country and the Colonies should be based, in the earnest hope that my suggestions may at least serve to elicit practical inquiry and discussion, and thus tend, however insignificantly, to the attainment of the great common object which the advocates of Imperial Federation have in view.