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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80

An Imperial Cabinet

An Imperial Cabinet.

The solution of the problem lies in the selection by the several States (as below described) of representatives whose names would be submitted to the King and made by him Members of the Privy Council. These representatives, together with certain British Ministers, would form a consultative body to advise the Sovereign on all matters which do not affect the United Kingdom alone—an Imperial Cabinet in the widest sense of the term. The British members should consist of the British Cabinet for the time being or some of its members. For this purpose it is essential that there be a fixed number of British representatives, either the whole British Cabinet, or a portion when the Cabinet exceeds the fixed number in the Imperial Cabinet.

The number of British representatives should be half of the Imperial Cabinet. They should be selected by the British Prime Minister, and would, as now, be subject to the House of Commons. Inasmuch as the decisions on matters of Defence, and Foreign or Imperial affairs would lie with the Imperial Cabinet as advising the King on these matters, the British Prime Minister must include in his selection of British Imperial Representatives, the following "Chief" Ministers:—The Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, for India, for the Colonies (in future Crown Colonies and Dependencies), for War, and the First Lord of the Admiralty. On a change of Government in the United Kingdom there would be a corresponding change of only the British members of the Imperial Cabinet. At first there would be no change in the mode of selection of these Ministers or as to their responsibility to the House of Commons or their constituents. The British Cabinet would continue as heretofore to advise the King on all matters relating solely to the United Kingdom. page 17 As the electors of the United Kingdom now direct all affairs, both domestic and Imperial, through the machinery of Parliament, so they would continue to do, but not to the same extent in Foreign or Imperial affairs as under the existing system.

Where after a General Election in the United Kingdom a Government was returned on some definite and clear issue of an Imperial nature (such as happened in 1880 in regard to Foreign and Asiatic policy, or in 1900 in relation to the Settlement of South Africa) all its members would be at one on that issue, and in consequence so would at least one half of the members of the Imperial Cabinet, thus giving effect to the expressed wishes of the "Predominant Partner." But where the election issues are domestic, as, for instance, the Education question in 1906 or the Finance Bill of 1910, the members of the British Cabinet may be divided on other issues, such as Naval Defence, and then the consents of the representatives from oversea would have due weight in determining the final policy. Other instances of the working of the scheme might be given.

The members from oversea would not be in the same position as the British, for they would acquire a share in the government of the Empire that they do not at present possess. Therefore the mode of their election or selection need not be the same, and should be left entirely to the respective States to determine according to their respective requirements. In the case of the States oversea, Foreign and other Imperial affairs are now not within the competence of their several Parliaments, and are in consequence and necessarily excluded from direct consideration of the electors, and parties are formed and divided on issues of purely domestic concern.

For instance, parties are returned to power in Australia on questions which concern the domestic affairs of Australia alone. The Ministry of the day will constitutionally represent the wishes of the Australian people on all such questions, but it may not represent their wishes on Imperial questions which are now excluded from page 18 Australian politics. If their representatives in the Imperial Cabinet be the nominees of the Australian Premier then one of two results must follow, either it will be possible for them (constitutionally considered) to misrepresent their people, or else these Imperial questions also will become subjects of discussion and voting at their elections, and the grouping of parties will, by a natural process, be readjusted and become based on Imperial as well as on domestic politics as they have always been in the United Kingdom. If the Australian people wish to avoid that result and prefer to keep Foreign and Imperial affairs outside their party politics they may determine to elect or select their Imperial Representatives by distinct and direct elections. The same reasoning applies to each of the oversea States.

Another State, say New Zealand, might prefer to leave the selection of its representatives to the Ministry of the day, or to the Legislature. The duration and tenure of office of these representatives should also be left to the decision of each State; those at a distance might prefer permanent representatives to give expression upon instructions to the views of the Ministry of the day, another might choose one for a term of years, a third (say Canada) being much nearer, might wish to change its representatives more frequently. There is no reason why the same process of selecting the Imperial representatives should, at least in the beginning, be followed in each case. After discussion it may be found advisable to adopt a uniform system, but this is not essential to the inauguration or working of the system.

The essential thing, however, is that the electors of each State should have, by keeping control over their respective representatives, the ultimate decision on all great questions of policy. To effect this the tenure of a seat in the Imperial Cabinet (and consequent tenure of Office if an Imperial Minister) should be under the sole control of the democracy each represents; the mode in which that control is to be exercised is a domestic affair for each State to regulate, and is a detail of the system. For example, the persons selected might be members of the Colonial page 19 Government or not even Members of the Colonial Parliament, or they might be chosen from amongst residents in England, preferably not members of the English Parliament. A wide latitude should be given in this respect to meet the difficulties arising from the distance of the States represented.

By whatever mode, or for whatever terms the representatives might be chosen, they would be put forward by the Governor-General of the State on the advice of the King's Ministers in that State (carrying out the wishes of the electorate) for His Majesty's approval, and be made Members of the Privy Council. By this means the existing Constitutions would be the channels through which the people of the oversea dominions would take their share in the control of the affairs of the Empire, preserving at the same time that complete independence in their domestic affairs that they at present enjoy. Just as the British Cabinet at present advises the King on all matters not requiring the previous consent of the so-called Imperial Parliament, such as Foreign affairs, or the exercise of the Royal Prerogative in connection with Imperial affairs, so the Imperial Cabinet would do through its President who would be the Prime Minister of the Empire.

The number of oversea representatives must be small, say one for Newfoundland and two for each of the larger States, nine in all, and ten members of the British Cabinet. The names of the individuals to fill the seats in the Imperial Cabinet, would be submitted to the King through the Governor-General of the State in question, just as now the British Prime Minister submits the names of his proposed colleagues for the King's approval on the formation of his Ministry.

On the inauguration of this Imperial Cabinet the Ministers would necessarily all be members of the British Cabinet. There would then be no marked difference between the new system and the old. The British Prime Minister would be the President of the Imperial Cabinet, which would practically be the British Cabinet with additional members. He would then be the Imperial Premier.

page 20

As the representatives of the oversea States must enjoy equality of status with their British colleagues they must be eligible for the office of one or more of the "Chief Ministers." The Imperial Premier must therefore be free to select for filling any of the above-mentioned posts any member of the Imperial Cabinet. When an oversea representative is selected for one of those posts, say that of Colonial Secretary, then one of the British representatives must be the corresponding Under Secretary. This Under Secretary, being a British Cabinet Minister, will be answerable for the policy pursued to the House of Lords, or Commons, as the case may be, and have as an Assistant Under Secretary a member of the other House who may or may not be also a member of the Imperial Cabinet. By thus enlarging the area of choice of a Minister the Premier would not be hampered so much as at present by narrow considerations such as the personal following of a proposed Minister or the safety of his seat. His choice could depend on merit, as it would be exercised after, and not before, the member had been constituted one of the Imperial Cabinet. But in all cases the predominance of the British representatives ensures that in all vital and great issues the policy followed by the Foreign or other Chief Ministers must be in accord with the views of the British Government.

The tenure of office of any Minister would be determined under the following circumstances. First, at the King's pleasure. This condition exists at present and would continue in like manner under the new system. In modern times no Minister enjoying the confidence of the House of Commons has ever been dismissed, and a like state of affairs would continue. Secondly, by a hostile vote in the Imperial Cabinet, or by voluntary resignation when he cannot agree with his colleagues on vital points. This latter condition prevails in the British Cabinet, and both are essential to any scheme whatever. And thirdly, the resignation of a Minister follows on his being withdrawn from the Cabinet by the Government or State he represents. This condition as regards a representative from oversea corresponds to a hostile page 21 vote of the House of Commons in the case of a British Minister. Such a vote now in that House involves the resignation of the Minister, and would continue to do so under the new system, but would not necessarily involve the resignation of the whole British Ministry.