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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80

The Results of the Present System

The Results of the Present System.

The evil results of the anomaly in the Constitutions of the States which results in their having no voice in Imperial affairs, were most conspicuous in the case of the retrocession of the Transvaal in 1881. The circumstances were described by the late Duke of Argyll in the following terms (Times, 21st December 1899):—

"As a Cabinet we were most imperfectly informed. The subject was for the most part treated departmentally and from moment to moment. No document with any grasp of the subject, as a whole, was ever put before us so far as I remember....I do not remember ever having seen the exact terms of the Convention of 1881 before it was concluded."

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We now know from the published life of Mr. Gladstone that the policy pursued was adopted in order to prevent certain members from leaving the Cabinet. Would this have been possible had there been a member of that Cabinet personally acquainted with and representing Natal and Cape Colony? Is it any different now? It must here be borne in mind that those from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, who endured so much for the Empire from 1899 to 1901, have had no voice whatever in the settlement of the future of the South African States. As to this, Lord Milner expressed his regret on December 14th, 1906:—

"I shall never forgive myself for not suggesting—I do not know that the suggestion would have been adopted, or even welcomed, but at any rate it was my business to make it—that in the settlement of South African affairs after the war, every important step taken by us should be taken in consultation with the other Colonies. It was by their efforts as well as ours that South Africa was kept within the Empire, and the subsequent policy was a clear case for Imperial co-operation."

The friction between the Home and oversea Governments arising from recent arrangements with the United States, in which the sovereign rights of Newfoundland were put in jeopardy without even that Colony being consulted, and the interference with the Government of Natal in dealing with a native rebellion, are also instances of the evil results arising from the absence of Colonial Statesmen from the Councils of the Crown.

Other questions involving the relations of these States to foreign countries will from time to time press on our attention, such as the employment of Asiatics and foreigners on our ships, and the policy of a "White Australia." Imperial issues such as these will, if things remain as they are, be settled by politicians at home who depend for the retention of their seats in Parliament on the variable opinions of the British elector, and on the result of an election which may turn on some question of purely domestic concern such as the control of the liquor traffic, the taxation of land values, or the teaching of religion in the schools.

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The present Parliament (October, 1910) well illustrates the position. Owing to the relative strength of parties and groups it is possible without an appeal to the people to substitute a policy of Preferential Trade for that of Free Imports if the farmers of Ireland demand it. They have shown their power by intimating to the Government that the importation into the United Kingdom of live stock from Canada will not be permitted. They have dictated the mode of attack on the House of Lords.

The question of a remedy is one rather for the democracies in the States than for that at home. The continuance of such an anomalous state of affairs as now exists, by which matters of vital interest to an oversea State may be made an election cry in England, can only be justified on the supposition that the British electors, even in regard to such matters, are superior in wisdom, judgment, and character, to their fellow subjects beyond the sea!