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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80a

— No. 3. — — The Earl of Onslow to Lord Knutsford.(Received 20th March 1891.) — [Answered by No. 5.]

— No. 3. —

The Earl of Onslow to Lord Knutsford.(Received 20th March 1891.)

[Answered by No. 5.]

My Lord,


I Have the honour to forward, at the request of Mr. Shera, a Member of the House of Representatives, two copies of a Petition signed by 40 Members of the same House, and presented by them in person. This Petition was presented to me a few hours before the meeting of Parliament on the 23rd January, against the appointment of any more Members of the Legislative Council until after the meeting of Parliament.

2. It was a matter of common notoriety that the appointments were already made when the Petition was presented, and it could not, therefore, have been expected to effect the object of its prayer.

3. As the Petition was presented in person, I concluded that the object of the Petitioners was to hear from me something of the causes which induced me to accept the advice of my Ministers. I replied that it was no part of my duty to enter into explanations of my actions to anyone but your Lordship, and I referred the deputation to the Despatches which are annually laid on the table of Parliament, and which will be presented as soon as a Speaker should have been elected.

4. I have already addressed your Lordship at length on this subject, which, as a precedent, is one of some importance.

5. There were four points which presented themselves in considering the advice tendered to me.

(1.)Whether Ministers were seeking to fill the Upper House during their term of office with more than a reasonable number of their nominees.
(2.)Whether there was any indication that their object was to alter the political bias of the House in favour of their party.
(3.)Whether the names were those of men unfit to occupy seats in the Council, and,
(4.)Whether Ministers, whose position in Parliament was doubtful, were entitled to recommend such appointments.

6. As to the 1st and 3rd points, I formed the opinion that had Ministers been in undoubted possession of the confidence of Parliament, no objection was likely to have been taken, except from a purely party point of view. It is true that the Premier was alleged to have given certain pledges, but this was a matter which concerned himself.

7. As to the 2nd point; during the previous Session of Parliament several measures drawn in the interests of the Labour Party had been rejected by the Upper House as then constituted, and, so far as the opinions of its members have a party tendency, they were already more in line with the party then in power than with the Progressive Party; while, as to the question of the reform of the Legislative Council, which that body had refused to consider, but which both political parties deem desirable, the new Councillors were themselves pledged in its favour.

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8. The 4th consideration is really the important one: assuming, as I do, that there was no valid objection to the appointments, I found it additionally difficult for me to take the very grave responsibility of differing from my Advisers. Such a step is certain to bring the Representative of the Queen into collision with some portion of those over whom he is called upon to administer the Government, and renders his conduct open to discussion in Parliament.

9. The gravest responsibility would rest upon me for the adoption of such a course in a case concerning the Colony alone, which neither affected the Royal Prerogative of Mercy nor the question of an appeal to the people, and was in consonance with accepted constitutional practice.

10. Although these appointments were made on 20th January, they had, with the exception of the actual names, been long under discussion with Ministers, and I had entertained some difference of opinion with them on the subject.

11. This difference was finally adjusted on 16th December, when I agreed to make six appointments, on the assurance that, in the opinion of Ministers, they should be the six men from among their supporters best calculated to strengthen the weakened Upper Chamber, and that as soon as Ministers could decide on the names (a process which appears to have been a lengthy one) they were to be formally submitted to me.

12. I should be wanting in candour were I to lead your Lordship to suppose that either the majority of the House of Representatives, the whole of the party which supported the late Government, or all the Legislative Councillors, approve the conduct of the late Ministry in tendering me this advice.

13. I do not think it is seriously maintained, in the face of the constant practice in England for defeated Ministries to advise Her Majesty to create peers, that there has been anything unconstitutional in my action; but, so far as I can gather, there is a strong feeling in the Colony that the practice which obtains in England of making Ministerial appointments before vacating office is not one which New Zealand Ministers should be encouraged to follow.

14. If I have interpreted that feeling aright, public opinion will be strong enough to prevent its recurrence.

15. In Colonies possessed of such democratic institutions as Manhood Suffrage and Triennial Parliaments, in addition to a numerous and universally read press, public opinion is not slow to assert itself, or to execute summary punishment on the Ministry or Party which has acted contrary to its wishes.

16. The unexpected support which the new Ministers had received in the recent short Session of Parliament, and the discontent of many of the supporters of the late Government is a sufficient intimation to the leaders of the party lately in power of the state of public opinion on this matter, and ought to prevent any serious evil to the Colony arising out of the event, considered in the light of a precedent; while, at the same time, the resignation of Ministers because their advice has not been accepted has been avoided—a step which, in my opinion, only the most imperative necessity can justify.

17. I need hardly add that any expression of opinion from your Lordship will greatly aid me in the course which I should adopt in future, and will be valued in the Colony as an indication of the attitude which Her Majesty's Government desire the Representative of the Queen to assume towards his Advisers and towards the people of these large and growing communities, who are in full possession of the powers of self-government, and perfectly able to control and direct those to whom they entrust the Government.

I have, &c. The Right Hon. the Lord Knutsford, G.C.M.G. (signed)


&c. &c. &c.