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is essential to a Parliamentary government;—that something like it will happen in all elective governments, and that worse happens under presidential government ;—that it is not necessarily prejudicial to a good administration, but that, on the contrary, something like it is a prerequisite of good administration ;—that the evident evils of English administration are not the results of Parliamentary government, but of grave deficiencies in other parts of our political and social state ;—that, in a word, they result not from what we have, but from what we have not.
As to the first point, those who wish to remove the choice of ministers from Parliament have not adequately considered what a Parliament is. A Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people. proportion as you give it power it will inquire into everything, settle everything, meddle in everything. In an ordinary despotism, the powers of a despot are limited by his bodily capacity, and by the calls of pleasure; he is but one man;—there are but twelve hours in his day, and he is not disposed to employ more than a small part in dull business ;-he keeps the rest for the court, or the harem, or for society. He is at the top of the world, and all the pleasures of the world are set before him. Mostly there is only a very small part of political business which he cares to understand, and much of it (with the shrewd sensual sense belonging to the race) he knows that he will never understand. But a Parliament is composed of a great number of men by no means at the top of the world. When you establish a predominant Parliament, you give
over the rule of the country to a despot who has unlimited time,-who has unlimited vanity,—who has, or believes he has, unlimited comprehension, whose pleasure is in action, whose life is work. There is no limit to the curiosity of Parliament. Sir Robert Peel once suggested that a list should be taken down of the questions asked of him in a single evening; they touched more or less on fifty subjects, and there were a thousand other subjects which by parity of reason might have been added too. As soon as bore A ends, bore B begins. Some inquire from genuine love of knowledge, or from a real wish to improve what they ask about,—others to see their name in the papers,others to show a watchful constituency that they are alert, mothers to get on and to get a place in the government, -others from an accumulation of little motives they could not themselves analyse, or because it is their habit to ask things. And a proper reply must be given. It was said that 66
Darby Griffith destroyed Lord Palmerston's first Government,” and undoubtedly the cheerful impertinence with which in the conceit of victory that minister answered grave men much hurt his Parliamentary power. There is one thing which no one will permit to be treated lightly,-himself. And so there is one too which a sovereign assembly will never permit to be lessened or ridiculed, -its own power. The minister of the day will have
. to give an account in Parliament of all branches of administration, to say why they act when they do, and why they do not when they don't.
Nor is chance inquiry all a public department has most to fear. Fifty inembers of Parliament may be zealous
for a particular policy affecting the department, and fifty others for another policy, and between them they may divide its action, spoil its favourite aims, and prevent its consistently working out either of their own aims. The process is very simple. Every department at times looks as if it was in a scrape ; some apparent blunder, perhaps some real blunder, catches the public eye. At once the antagonist Parliamentary sections, which want to act on the department, seize the opportunity. They make speeches, they move for documents, they amass statistics. They declare “ that in no other country is such a policy possible as that which the department is pursuing; that it is mediæval ; that it costs money; that it wastes life; that America does the contrary; that Prussia does the contrary.” The newspapers follow according to their nature. These bits of administrative scandal amuse the public. Articles on them are very easy to write, easy to read, easy to talk about. They please the vanity of mankind. We think as we read, “ Thank God, I am not as that man; I did not send green coffee to the Crimea; I did not send patent cartridge to the common guns, and common cartridge to the breech-loaders. I make money; that miserable public functionary only wastes money." As for the defence of the department, no one cares for it or reads it. Naturally at first hearing it does not sound true. The opposition have the unrestricted selection of the point of attack, and they seldom choose a case in which the department, upon the surface of the matter, seems to be right. The case of first impression will always be that something shameful has happened ; that
such and such men did die; that this and that gun would not go off; that this or that ship will not sail. All the pretty reading is unfavourable, and all the praise is
I do not agree
Nothing is more helpless than such a department in Parliament if it has no authorised official defender. The wasps of the House fasten on it; here they perceive is something easy to sting, and safe, for it cannot sting in return. The small grain of foundation 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 honourable gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury. He is a man of business. 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 honourable gentleman will grant me his attention while I show from the very documents of the department,” &c., &c. 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," &c., &c. 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 honourable member would be satisfied with having the matter inquired into by a committee of that House, lie 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 :