Imágenes de páginas

for complaint germinates till it becomes a whole crop. At once the minister of the day is appealed to: he is at the head of the administration, and he must put the errors right, if such they are. The Opposition leader says, "I put it to the right honorable gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury. He is a man of business; I do not agree with him in his choice of ends, but he is an almost perfect master of methods and means, — what he wishes to do he does do: now, I appeal to him whether such gratuitous errors, such fatuous incapacity, are to be permitted in the public service. Perhaps the right honorable gentleman will grant me his attention while I show from the very documents of the department—” etc., etc. What is the minister to do? He never heard of this matter; he does not care about the matter. Several of the supporters of the Government are interested in the opposition to the department; a grave man, supposed to be wise, mutters, “This is too bad." The Secretary of the Treasury tells him, “The House is uneasy; a good many men are shaky, - A B said yesterday he had been dragged through the dirt four nights following. Indeed, I am disposed to think myself that the department has been somewhat lax. Perhaps an inquiry —” etc., etc. And upon that the Prime Minister rises and says that “Her Majesty's Government, having given very serious and grave consideration to this most important subject, are not prepared to say that in so complicated a matter the department has been perfectly exempt from error. He does not indeed concur in all the statements which have been made, -it is obvious that several of the charges advanced are inconsistent with one another: if A had really died from eating green coffee on the Tuesday, it is plain he could not have suffered from insufficient medical attendance on the following Thursday. However, on so complex a subject, and one so foreign to common experience, he will not give a judgment, and if the honorable member would be satisfied with having the matter inquired into by a committee of that House, he will be prepared to accede to the suggestion.”

Possibly the outlying department, distrusting the ministry, crams a friend; but it is happy indeed if it chances on a judicious friend. The persons most ready to take up that sort of business are benevolent amateurs, very well intentioned, very grave, very respectable, but also rather dull; their words are good, but about the joints their arguments are weak; they speak very well, but while they are speaking the decorum is so great that everybody goes away. Such a man is no match for a couple of House of Commons gladiators: they pull what he says to shreds, they show or say that he is wrong about his facts. Then he rises in a fuss and must explain; but in his hurry he mistakes, and cannot find the right paper, and becomes first hot, then confused, next inaudible, and so sits down. Probably he leaves the House with the notion that the defense of the department has broken down, and so the Times announces to all the world as soon as it awakes.

Some thinkers have naturally suggested that the heads of departments should as such have the right of speech in the House; but the system when it has been tried has not answered. M. Guizot tells us from his own experience that such a system is not effectual. A great popular assembly has a corporate character: it has its own privileges, prejudices, and notions ; and one of these notions is that its own members – the persons it sees every day, whose qualities it knows, whose minds it can test-are those whom it can most trust. A clerk speaking from without would be an unfamiliar object, he would be an outsider; he would speak under suspicion, he would speak without dig. nity; very often he would speak as a victim, - all the bores of the House would be upon him, he would be put upon examination, he would have to answer interrogatories, he would be put through the figures and cross-questioned in detail, the whole effect of what he said would be lost in questiunculæ and hidden in a controversial detritus.

Again, such a person would rarely speak with great ability. He would speak as a scribe: his habits must have been formed in the quiet of an office; he is used to red-tape, placidity, and the respect of subordinates. Such a person will hardly ever be able to stand the hurly-burly of a public assembly: he will lose his head, - he will say what he should not; he will get hot and red; he will feel he is a sort of culprit. After being used to the flattering deference of deferential subordinates, he will be pestered by fuss and confounded by invective. He will hate the House as naturally as the House does not like him: he will be an incompetent speaker addressing a hostile audience.

And what is more, an outside administrator addressing parliament can move parliament only by the goodness of his arguments: he has no votes to back them up with. He is sure to be at chronic war with some active minority of assailants or others. The natural mode in which a department is improved on great points and new points is by external suggestion; the worst foes of a department are the plausible errors which the most visible facts suggest, and which only half-visible facts confute. Both the good ideas and the bad ideas are sure to find advocates first in the press and then in parliament; against these a permanent clerk would have to contend by argument alone. The minister, the head of the parliamentary Government, will not care for him. The minister will say in some undress soliloquy, “ These permanent fellows must look after themselves : I cannot be bothered. I have only a majority of nine, and a very shaky majority too: I cannot afford to make enemies for those whom I did not appoint; they did nothing for me, and I can do nothing for them.” And if the permanent clerk come to ask his help, he will say in decorous language, “I am sure that if the department

can evince to the satisfaction of parliament that its past moagement has been such as the public interests require, no one will be more gratified than myself. I am not aware if it will be in my power to attend in my place on Monday; but if I can be so fortunate, I shall listen to your official statement with my very best attention.” And so the permanent public servant will be teased by the wits, oppressed by the bores, and massacred by the innovators of parliament.

The incessant tyranny of parliament over the public offices is prevented and can only be prevented by the appointment of a parliamentary head, connected by close ties with the present ministry and the ruling party in parliament. The parliamentary head is al protecting machine: he and the friends he brings stand between the department and the busybodies and crotchet-makers of the House and the country. So long as at any moment the policy of an office could be altered by chance votes in either House of parliament, there is no security for any consistency. Our guns and our ships are not, perhaps, very good now; but they would be much worse if any thirty or forty advocates for this gun or that gun could make a motion in Parliament, beat the department, and get their ships or their guns adopted: the “Black Breech Ordnance Company” and the “Adamantine Ship Company” would soon find representatives in Parliament if forty or fifty members would get the national custom for their rubbish. But this result is now prevented by the parliamentary head of the department. As soon as the Opposition begins the attack, he looks up his means of defense: he studies the subject, compiles his arguments, and builds little piles of statistics, which he hopes will have some effect. He has his reputation at stake, and he wishes to show that he is worth his present place and fit for future promotion. He is well known, perhaps liked, by the House; at any rate, the House attends to him, he is one of

[ocr errors]

the regular speakers whom they hear and heed. He is sure to be able to get himself heard, and he is sure to make the best defense he can; and after he has settled his speech, he loiters up to the Secretary of the Treasury and says quietly, “They have got a motion against me on Tuesday, you know: I hope you will have your men here. A lot of fellows have crotchets, and though they do not agree a bit with one another, they are all against the department; they will all vote for the inquiry.” And the Secretary answers, “ Tuesday, you say: no” (looking at a paper), “I do not think it will come on on Tuesday, - there is Higgins on Education, he is good for a long time; but anyhow it shall be all right.” And then he glides about and speaks a word here and a word there, in consequence of which, when the anti-official motion is made, a considerable array of steady grave faces sits behind the Treasury Bench, -- nay, possibly a rising man who sits in outlying independence below the gangway rises to defend the transaction; the department wins by thirty-three, and the management of that business pursues its steady way.

This contrast is no fancy picture: the experiment of conducting the administration of a public department by an independent unsheltered authority has often been tried, and always failed, - Parliament always poked at it till it made it impossible. The most remarkable [instance] is that of the Poor Law: the administration of that law is not now very good, but it is not too much to say that almost the whole of its goodness has been preserved by its having an official and party protector in the House of Commons. Without that contrivance we should have drifted back into the errors of the old Poor Law, and superadded to them the present meanness and incompetence in our large towns: all would have been given up to local management; Parliament would have interfered with the central board till it made it impotent, and the local authorities would have been despotic.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »