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helpless when the nation is excited. In a time of revolution there are but two powers, the sword and the people. The executive commands the sword; the great lesson which the First Napoleon taught the Parisian populacethe contribution he made to the theory of revolutions at the 18th Brumaire-is now well known. Any strong soldier at the head of the army can use the army. But a second chamber cannot use it. It is a pacific assembly, composed of timid peers, aged lawyers, or, as abroad, clever littérateurs. Such a body has no force to put down the nation, and if the nation will have it do something it must do it.
The very nature, too, as has been seen, of the Lords in the English Constitution, shows that it cannot stop revolution. The constitution contains an exceptional provision to prevent its stopping it. The executive, the appointee of the popular chamber and the nation, can make new peers, and so create a majority in the peers ; it can say to the Lords, “ Use the powers of your
House as we like, or you shall not use them at all. We will find others to use them ; your virtue shall go out of you if it is not used as we like, and stopped when we please.” An assembly under such a threat cannot arrest, and could not be intended to arrest, a determined and insisting executive.
In fact the House of Lords, as a House, is not a bulwark that will keep out revolution, but an index that revolution is unlikely. Resting as it does upon old deference, and inveterate homage, it shows that the spasm of new forces, the outbreak of new agencies, which we call
revolution, is for the time simply impossible. So long as many old leaves linger on the November trees, you know that there has been little frost and no wind : just so while the House of Lords retains much power, you may know that there is no desperate discontent in the country, no wild agency likely to cause a great demolition.
There used to be a singular idea that two chambers, a revising chamber and a suggesting chamber —were essential to a free government. The first person who threw a hard stone-an effectually hitting stone-against the theory was one very little likely to be favourable to democratic influence, or to be blind to the use of aristocracy; it was the present Lord Grey. He had to look at the matter practically. He was the first great colonial minister of England who ever set himself to introduce representative institutions into all her capable colonies, and the difficulty stared him in the face that in those colonies there were hardly enough good people for one assembly, and not near enough good people for two assemblies. It happened—and most naturally happened—that a second assembly was mischievous. The second assembly was either the nominee of the Crown, which in such places naturally allied itself with better instructed minds, or was elected by people with a higher property qualificationsome peculiarly well-judging people. Both these choosers choose the best men in the colony, and put them into the second assembly. But thus the popular assembly was left without those best men. The popular assembly was denuded of those guides and those leaders who would have led and guided it best. Those superior men were put
aside to talk to one another, and perhaps dispute with one another; they were a concentrated instance of high but neutralised forces. They wished to do good, but they could do nothing. The Lower House, with all the best people in the colony extracted, did what it liked. The democracy was strengthened rather than weakened by the isolation of its best opponents in a weak position. As soon as experience bad shown this, or seemed to show it, the theory that two chambers.were essential to a good and free government vanished away.
With a perfect Lower House it is certain that an Upper House would be scarcely of any value. If we had an ideal House of Commons perfectly representing the nation, always moderate, never passionate, abounding in men of leisure, never omitting the slow and steady forms necessary for good consideration, it is certain that we should not need a higher chamber. The work would be done so well that we should not want any one to look over or revise it. And whatever is unnecessary in government is pernicious. Human life makes so much complexity necessary that an artificial addition is sure to do harm : you cannot tell where the needless bit of machinery will catch and clog the hundred needful wheels; but the chances are conclusive that it will impede them somewhere, so nice are they and so delicate. But though beside an ideal House of Commons the Lords would be unnecessary, and therefore pernicious, beside the actual House a revising and leisured legislature is extremely useful, if not quite necessary.
At present the chance majorities on minor questions in
the House of Commons are subject to no effectual control. The nation never attends to any but the principal matters of policy and state. Upon these it forms that rude, rough, ruling judgment which we call public opinion; but upon other things it does not think at all, and it would be useless for it to think. It has not the materials for forming a judgment: the detail of Bills, the instrumental part of policy, the latent part of legislation, are wholly out of its way. It knows nothing about them, and could not find time or labour for the careful investigation by which alone they can be apprehended. A casual majority of the House of Commons has therefore dominant power: it can legislate as it wishes. And though the whole House of Commons upon great subjects very fairly represents public opinion, and though its judgment upon minor questions is, from some secret excellencies in its composition, remarkably sound and good; yet, like all similar assemblies, it is subject to the sudden action of selfish combinations. There are said to be two hundred “ members for the railways ” in the present Parliament. If these two hundred choose to combine on a point which the public does not care for, and which they care for because it affects their purse, they are absolute. A formidable sinister interest may always obtain the complete command of a dominant assembly by some chance and for a moment, and it is therefore of great use to have a second chamber of an opposite sort, differently composed, in which that interest in all likelihood will not rule.
The most dangerous of all sinister interests is that of the executive Government, because it is the most powerful. It is perfectly possible—it has happened, and will happen again—that the Cabinet, being very powerful in the Commons, may inflict minor measures on the nation which the nation did not like, but which it did not understand enough to forbid. If, therefore, a tribunal of revision can be found in which the executive, though powerful, is less powerful, the government will be the better; the retarding chamber will impede minor instances of parliamentary tyranny, though it will not prevent or much impede revolution.
Every large assembly is, moreover, a fluctuating body; it is not one house, so to say, but a set of houses ; it is one set of men to-night and another to-morrow night. A certain unity is doubtless preserved by the duty which the executive is supposed to undertake, and does undertake, of keeping a house; a constant element is so provided about which all sorts of variables accumulate and pass away. But even after due allowance for the full weight of this protective machinery, our House of Commons is, as all such chambers must be, subject to sudden turns and bursts of feeling, because the members who compose it change from time to time. The pernicious result is perpetual in our legislation; many acts of Parliament are medleys of different motives, because the majority which passed one set of its clauses is different from that which passed another set.
But the greatest defect of the House of Commons is that it has no leisure. The life of the House is the worst of all lives—a life of distracting routine. It has an amount