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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80

One Suggested Remedy

One Suggested Remedy.

Now it must be conceded that the British Empire ought to present a united front to foreign nations. It should be quite immaterial to them what party is in power in the United Kingdom. The party system, and a regard for party interests, are so ingrained in English public life, that it is too much to expect that Foreign and Colonial questions will not hereafter, as formerly, at times be made more or less subordinate to the interests of party at home. So long as in Foreign and Colonial affairs the King is advised solely by his British Cabinet, depending on the votes of British electors, this must be the case. Yet at home the "man in the street," from ignorance of the conditions involved, cannot be a judge of foreign questions; and, in regard to questions affecting principally the States oversea, there is no reason why he should be consulted more than the "man in the street" of the States. What is wanted is such a Federation as will give the States a share in the direction of Imperial Policy in such a manner as to diminish the temptation to subordinate Imperial questions to party interests in the United Kingdom alone.

The time has therefore arrived for the States oversea to demand (not as a favour, but as a matter of right and justice) a direct voice in the Councils of the Crown, that is, an efficient share in the direction of their own external affairs. In the exercise of the Royal Prerogative in all matters in which the Foreign and Imperial inter-State affairs are concerned the King should have the benefit of the advice of Ministers elected by, and responsible to, the States they respectively represent.

The problem is two-fold: on the one hand there is the admission of Colonial Statesmen to a share in the direction of Imperial affairs, and on the other a corresponding narrowing of the powers at present exercised solely by British Ministers responsible to the British House of Commons and the electorate of the United Kingdom.

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In any scheme of combined action on a representative basis there are four chief conditions to be fulfilled, or objects to be attained.

First.—The powers and rights enjoyed by any of the States oversea must not be curtailed or interfered with. This proposition needs no elucidation. The self-government already granted to the States is complete as regards their own domestic concerns, but as they have no responsible share in Imperial affairs the proposal now is to give them something in addition, viz., a share in advising the King in all Imperial affairs.

Secondly.—While obtaining a due share in the direction of Imperial affairs the representatives must be few in number. This condition is necessary in order to meet the difficulty arising from the great distances of some of the States, which prevent individual members of the States Governments from being members of the new council, and the difficulty, therefore, of supplying any considerable number of experienced representatives.

Thirdly.—The Statesmen from oversea must have an opportunity of attaining to the highest posts as advisers to the Crown. The stage of development at which the Empire has now arrived, has resulted in the creation of several States oversea in many respects of the same status as the United Kingdom, which must necessarily rank "first amongst equals." It follows, therefore, that the men who have been trained in government in the States oversea, are entitled to an equal status in any joint or federal council.

Fourthly.—The new body or council must be so constituted that Foreign and Imperial affairs will be removed as much from party strife in the United Kingdom, as they now are from party politics in the other States of the Empire. This last condition is not easy of attainment, but is well worth a sacrifice if need be. If Imperial affairs can be kept out of party strife the course of Imperial policy will be more uniform. It is, for example, not in the interests of the Empire that the Navy should be kept at a minimum standard for a period of years, and then be page 15 more rapidly increased according to a new standard by means of a loan, after the next election. Other illustrations might be given. Parties are but a means to an end and must exist where a large number of representatives act together. Great issues, such as the unity of the Kingdom, or Protection v. Free Imports, directly divide and reconstruct parties, but lesser questions are raised or pushed into prominence in the interests of party.

Suggestions have been made from time to time, and are now revived in connection with the Constitutional Crisis in the United Kingdom, for the creation of a true Imperial Parliament or a Senate in which the States oversea would be represented. Such a Parliament would be truly "Imperial" and would meet for discussion, legislation and finance, and discharge the functions of the present so-called Imperial Parliament in regard to all matters other than the purely domestic affairs of the United Kingdom, which might then be relegated to local Parliaments or Provincial Councils. To such a scheme there are objections of a practical nature. First.—If the representatives were proportional to the population, those of the oversea dominions would be in a minority. Secondly, their interests and points of view would be different from those of the United Kingdom and their representatives would, in many respects, bear the same relation to the whole body, as the Irish Nationalist Party bears to the present House of Commons. Thirdly.—If the number of these representatives were at all adequate it would be difficult to find a sufficient number of leading men to leave their country to attend at Westminster. A journey from Inverness or Galway to London is one thing, one from Melbourne or Christchurch another. Fourthly, the drawbacks of the party system would be perpetuated, and there would be no guarantee that the equivalent of a "General Election" would not cause a sudden reversal in Foreign policy, or policy of Naval or Military Defence; and fifthly, the representatives from oversea could only obtain an efficient share in the Imperial Executive by being involved in the party politics of the page 16 United Kingdom. For these reasons this solution of the problem is not now further considered in these pages, but the proposal suggested below is not inconsistent with such a subsequent solution.