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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80a

"Evening Post," Monday, 15 February 1892. — The Governor's Lesson. — [Alterations and comments of Lord Onslow shown in Italics."]

page 29

"Evening Post," Monday, 15 February 1892.

The Governor's Lesson.

[Alterations and comments of Lord Onslow shown in Italics."]

Nothing could have been more apt, better-timed, or more suggestively true than his Excellency Lord Onslow's remarks on Friday night respecting the position and functions of an Upper Chamber. He very clearly defined the legal and nominal prerogative of such a Chamber as limited by constitutional usage. His words were pregnant with meaning in the position of affairs in this colony at the present time, although they were, of course, quite of a general character. It would have been improper for him to have pointed the application of the principles he laid down, but it is easy for the most careless observer to read between the lines. Paraphrased and simplified, his Excellency's remarks amount to this : that the constitutional function of a second Chamber is not to set up its own will in stubborn and immovable opposition to the will of the people, but to interpose such a cheque upon hasty legislation as shall give the people time to consider the subject fully, and to form and express a mature and decided opinion upon the questions at issue. For an Upper House to attempt to do more than this would, as Lord Onslow points out, be to admit that the common sense upon which Englishmen pride themselves no longer guided its action, and the inevitable result would be an irresistible movement for the abolition of such a Chamber. The House of Lords, the most time-honoured and Conservative of Upper Chambers, has never yet so set itself against the fulfilment of the well considered and clearly-expressed popular will. Had it done so it would ere this have belonged to the things of the past. Conservative although its majorities have always been, it has gracefully yielded when unmistakably shown that the matured opinion of the people was in favour of any measure of progress. The various Reform Bills at first unhesitatingly rejected by it have been accepted after direct reference of them to the people, and their receiving emphatic approval at the polling booths. The House of Lords, having made its protest, has ever yielded gracefully when the popular verdict has on appeal gone against it. It has never been necessary to resort to the once-threatened extreme expedient of swamping the House by a creation of Peers. Lord Onslow will himself return to England to take part in another early surrender of the views of the majority of his fellow Peers to those of the people. The House of Lords will undoubtedly reject the first Home Rule for Ireland Bill which the Commons may pass, and Lord Onslow will no doubt vote with the majority. Practically, of course, the question of Home Rule will be the issue on which the impending general election at home will depend, and if Mr. Gladstone returns to power a Home Rule Bill will certainly be passed by the House of Commons. But no matter what the majority there may be, the Bill will as certainly be rejected by the Lords. Then it will be Mr. Gladstone's duty to take his Bill to the constituencies, and ask them to express a direct opinion upon it. If such an appeal is made and answered by an emphatic expression of public approval, then the House of Lords will have fulfilled its constitutional duty, and Lord Onslow and his friends will, no doubt, with characteristic common sense, accept and yield to the will of the people. There will be no howl raised at home at the action of the Lords in refusing to accept the opinion expressed in the general election on the general question, and insisting on a specific reference of the Bill to the constituencies. It will be within its rights in thus delaying definite action, and no one will complain of such a course being adopted. So in like manner, and this, we take it, was the lesson intended to be conveyed in Lord Onslow's speech, has the Legislative Council been quite within its rights in refusing to pass all the policy measures of the present Government simply because they have been formulated by a Ministry chosen from the majority returned on general principles at the last general election. [The Council has a clear constitutional right to insist that the precise measures shall be specifically referred to the verdict of the constituencies] [not every measure but every great fundamental change]. Then if the people declare that they want these measures passed it will be the duty of the Council to bow to that opinion, however unwise they deem it. To oppose it further would be unconstitutional obstruction. The Government policy measures which the Council rejected last Session, and on which a most improper clamour against that Chamber has been raised, were the Payment of Members Bill, in respect to the largely-increased payment proposed; page 30 the Land Bill, so far as the extinguishment of the freehold tenure is concerned; and the [re-purchase of private lands for settlement purposes] [rejected by small majority]. The Council is perfectly right in insisting that the deliberate sense of the country shall be taken on these proposals. Certainly they were not prominently before the country at the general election. The proper course for the Government to adopt is to appeal from the Council to the country on these measures [or on the question of bringing the Upper House into harmony with the Lower], instead of attempting to swamp the Council by the creation of new members without the country being consulted, or the using of wild threats with a view to coercing the Council into abandoning its constitutional position. Lord Onslow has in the most admirable manner pointed out to his Advisers the constitutional course which they should follow. If they pursue it, they will, we are convinced, find that the Council will accept the interpretation of its functions as laid down by the Governor, and act constitutionally with the common sense credited to it by his Excellency.