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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80

Advantages and Limits

Advantages and Limits.

One advantage of the scheme here sketched is that it can be brought into operation without legislation or the creation of a written Constitution. Just as the Cabinet and the present practice as to Ministerial responsibility have been developed without legislation by the consent of all parties, so the consent of all parties in the Empire is sufficient to enable this new step to be taken. The machinery for it already exists. The Imperial Cabinet would be essentially a Committee of the Privy Council on the lines of the Board of Trade in its original form. Secondly, it involves no change in the legislative powers of the Parliaments of the Empire or in their control of taxation; in regard to matters of finance or those requiring page 25 legislation the functions of the Imperial Cabinet would be purely consultative and advisory. But the preliminary mutual discussion in matters requiring subsequent legislation or financial votes would facilitate the subsequent actions of the respective Parliaments. Thirdly, it would in no way interfere with the future development of an Imperial Senate on the one hand or of a policy of devolution within the United Kingdom on the other. It is quite independent of either of these issues and would facilitate either of them,* especially that of devolution, by going a great way to remove Foreign Policy and Defence from the ordinary strife of parties.

Suggestions were made at the last Imperial Conference as to central offices, a Secretariat and other details. These will apply equally well to the scheme here suggested.

It may be objected that this scheme rests on a novel foundation which would (because new) be called "unconstitutional"; namely, the existence of a Cabinet whose members are responsible to distinct Parliaments or States and not to one Parliament only. The term "unconstitutional "is often used to mean little more than" without precedent." But the situation is also without precedent, for there are several separate States—the United Kingdom, Newfoundland, the Dominions of Canada and New Zealand, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Union of South Africa, each with full and separate Parliamentary Government under one Sovereign having (with the exception of the United Kingdom) all their external affairs under the control of a Cabinet responsible to one of them only! A collection of States so situated is "without precedent" in the history of the world. Where is there a precedent for two nations side by side as Canada and the United States are, one of which, as regards their mutual relations, is under the control of a Cabinet whose members hold power by the votes of persons in a distant land? The anomalies of the present condition of things are greater than any that are here suggested, and were page 26 aptly described by Mr. Churchill in the House of Commons on 31st March 1910:—

"Even now . . . the House of Commons has the power and the Government depending upon the House of Commons would have the power, resting on a single-chamber system, to deal with all the vital organs of the State .... The powers of the House of Commons if they were exerted recklessly and wantonly are still effective, clipped as they have been, to shatter altogether the foundations and the system of the State. War, treaties, defence, supply, patronage, police, all these functions, which in every country in the world have always been held to constitute the essential securities of the State, are still within the control of an Executive resting upon the House of Commons, are still within the control of a single-chamber system."—(Par. Deb., Vol. XV., 1573.)

These words were uttered to show the powers of the present Cabinet unchecked by the necessity of legislation or the House of Lords; they may also be applied to the present problem. The words "war, treaties, defence" cover the field of Imperial politics and include the Imperial affairs of the States oversea. "These functions—the essential "securities of the State—are still within the "control of an Executive resting upon the House of "Commons," that is, resting on the votes of cliques who hold the balance of power. The leader of the Irish Nationalist party has openly dictated to the Ministry the "plan of campaign" to be followed in their attack upon the Constitution, and the Ministry have openly changed their strategy in obedience to such dictator! Are these conditions safe? Can Canada trust a Ministry so supported with her interests in regard to negotiations with the United States about the Panama Canal or other matters, when it is remembered that the funds of the Irish Nationalist party are largely furnished by citizens of the United States?

South African questions arising with regard to their German or Portuguese neighbours—the Congo StateIndian Immigration, and so forth are under the existing system settled by a Cabinet whose precarious tenure of power rests to a considerable extent on the votes of those who openly boast that they have no regard for the page 27 Empire. So too as regards Australia, our relations with Japan, France, &c., the settlement of questions as to immigration, the employment of aliens on our ships, &c., is under the sole control of a group of British politicians who are not responsible to the Commonwealth of Australia or to the Dominion of New Zealand. True Statesmen will foresee and guard against the dangers above enumerated, mere politicians will let things drift.

* The scheme here advocated was published in outline in a letter published in the Colonial Press in May 1906.