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REPRESENTATION OF THE COLONIES
IN THE HOME PARLIAMENT
The problems to be considered in this paper are, Why, when and how the colonies should be represented at home, and how not to do it. No elaborate argument really is required. It is only necessary to quote a few weighty authorities to show the more obvious reasons for this representation.
Long before the American colonies separated themselves from England, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke strongly urged their being represented in the home Parliament and emphatically stated the urgent necessity and cogent reasons for this representation. Had the advice of those far-seeing men been taken, the War of Independence would probably have been averted altogether.
Adam Smith wrote these memorable words:
There is not the least probability that the British Constitution would in any way be hurt by the greater union of Britain with her colonies. That Constitution, on the contrary, would be completed by such union, and seems to be imperfect without it. The assembly which deliberates and decides concerning the affairs of the whole empire, in order to be properly informed of those affairs, ought certainly to contain representatives of every part of that Empire.
Charles Fox, speaking of Edmund Burke's celebrated speech on the conciliation of the American colonies, emphasised the importance of the matter in these words :
Let gentlemen read this speech by day and meditate upon it by night. Let them peruse it again and again, study it, imprint it on their minds, and impress it on their hearts. They would then see that representation was the sovereign remedy for every evil!
What Burke proposed was perfect local autonomy combined with home representation in England.
Burke's grand utterances in the speech referred to cannot better be quoted than here. While defending colonial autonomy: ‘My idea,' he says, 'is, without considering whether we yield it as a matter of favour or grant it as a right, to admit the people of our colonies to an interest in the Constitution.' Referring to the then
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great difficulties of distance, he said : What Nature has disjoined in one way, Wisdom may unite in another.' It is as though he foresaw how steam and electricity would sweep away the obstacles of time and space, and looked forward in spirit to the great gathering which this year has seen, of Parliamentary leaders and other representatives of the whole Colonial Empire, met together at home' and yet in close and momentary touch with the ends of the earth; as though he felt, too, how this great gathering foreshadows a yet more perfect representative unity in the future. For this important meeting and its results, with those of former Colonial Conferences, show the conviction to be growing and well grounded, that the Empire needs common councils in which every part of it is to be represented.
But although the subject has been under more or less organised agitation for the last quarter of a century, no practical step has been taken towards attaining the desired object. This object is to obtain a permanent grant to the colonies, the now grown-up children of England, of some voice in those matters which directly or indirectly concern them, when these are debated in the councils of the Empire, and there, for good or ill, influenced or determined.
The time would now appear to be quite ripe for some immediate practical action in this direction, and the desire for it is not confined to statesmen of any one part or any one party of the Empire.
The Royal Colonial Institute, whose motto is “The Unity of the Empire,' has been in existence for five-and-twenty years, and it is well known that its desire, voiced by its earliest president, the late Duke of Manchester, has all along been strongly in favour of the representation of the colonies in both Houses of Parliament. He thus enunciated the principles of the Institute: 'I feel that the great colonies have as much right to exercise a voice in our councils and to govern and influence the foreign policy of the nation as the county of Kent or any other county in England.'
When Lord Beaconsfield came into office about 1872, he announced (at Bristol, I think it was), on behalf of the incoming Ministry, that it would not fail to take into practical consideration the claims of the colonies to representation in some form or other. He suggested as one practical mode of doing so, a council like that of India, but elective. His Ministry failed, however, to take the question into serious consideration.
The late William Forster and also Earl Carnarvon both spoke hopefully of colonial representation, in speeches delivered at Edinburgh about the year 1878. William Forster's words were: Representation is the life-blood of the Constitution.' The late Earl Grey, about the same time, suggested that elected delegates from the colonies should be made members of the Queen's Privy Council and of a committee of that council to advise Secretaries of State for the Colonies.
Lord Rosebery, too, some years ago, moved in favour of according representation to the colonies for the present in the House of Lords. But he seems to me to have overweighted the proposal by mixing it up with one for an organic reform of the House of Lords, for which it was not prepared.
It has lately appeared from a cablegram that Mr. Chamberlain, a man of practical character, with plenty of initiative force, has declared himself in favour of giving the power to the colonies of sending delegates to sit in the House of Lords. We have yet to see what actual steps he and the present Ministry will take in the matter.
Turning now from the statesmen of England to those of the colonies, we find the same fundamental views strongly and representatively expressed. Thousands of eminent and representative colonists have joined the Royal Colonial Institute and other bodies similarly formed to promote the closer union of England with her colonies and their representation in her councils.
One well-stated colonial utterance will be sufficient for present illustration. Many years ago the then Premier of New Zealand, Mr. James Service, wrote a statement of his reasons in favour of the measure in question in the following words :
The chief of these considerations is the very anomalous position which these colonies occupy as regards local government and the exercise of Imperial authority respectively. In regard to the first (i.e. local government) the fullest measure of Constitutional freedom and Parliamentary representation has been conceded to them, at least to the most important of them; but as regards the second (i.e. the exercise of Imperial authority) they have no voice whatever in the Imperial system. Subjects of the Empire in this part of it may be deeply interested in the action (or it may be the inaction) of the Imperial authorities, but they have no voice nor vote in those councils of the Empire to which Her Majesty's Ministers are responsible. Thus in all matters in which the exercise of the Imperial authority has interest for them, that authority is, to all intents and purposes, an unqualified autocracy, or at best bureaucracy.
And so we have, from the time of Burke to the present, a growing consensus of opinion on the part of great home and colonial statesmen that there is a great defect in the system uniting England with her colonies, a split in the very foundation of it, requiring that something should be done to remedy it. No objections against this proposed remedy will stand investigation. They are easily refuted; they represent mere removable impediments.
It is often asked, for instance, “Does not the fact that all this concurrence of opinion and combined agitation for so long a time have failed to bring about any practical result, tend to show that, although theoretically the measure appears reasonable and requisite, some practically insuperable impediments must exist, and become evident to the statesmen who have made a special study of the question ?' The answer is, No! This is only an instance of the
well-known vis inertiæ of a huge human organisation like the Empire, and of the difficulty of bringing a great number of people to see alike and clearly where lies the line of least resistance, and to start moving and join intelligently in a long pull and a strong pull and a pull altogether' in the right direction. The great mistake, so fatal to concerted action, has too frequently been made, here as elsewhere, of educating public opinion on the abstract question only, while avoiding the formulation of any distinct scheme of representation to be considered by the bodies organised to promote the movement Now it is impossible to work up any effective public movement without showing the people some clear object within their reach ; there can be no enthusiasm about vague, abstract questions to be solved in another generation or two. Let the hour and the man but come; let a strong leader (and Mr. Chamberlain may be the needed one) but indicate the right direction and the first easy practical step to be taken towards it. He will find no lack of force and enthusiasm to back him; and that first practical step once secured, the next ones will follow naturally and in course of time, as reason may direct.
As things now stand, many earnest men have spent their energies in devising how, by some mighty organic changes, the British Empire might be wholly reformed and a great Federal Parliament supersede the present Imperial and Colonial Parliaments, who would have to surrender some of their powers to it. But the great Mother of Parliaments and her children will not be found at all disposed thus to abdicate their powers; and the only effect of such proposals is to make the public, or many of them, in the absence of more sensible leading, feel doubtful of the practical nature of the movement for colonial representation.
Some have even mischievously mixed up matters by speaking of taxation as a necessary correlative of representation, whereas representation is really the correlative of power over intelligent free men, and has existed without any taxation. What all who desire to be true Unionists must take as their cry is the principle of Burke's speech : full Local Autonomy and central Home Representation. Whoever desires local autonomy without home representation, or home representation without local autonomy, is a true separatist, as those who despised Burke's pregnant speech proved themselves to be.
The proceeding suggested by Mr. Chamberlain does not profess to claim any symmetry or perfection. It purports to be only a step; but it has this advantage, that it is something which could be adopted and passed in one session, and which the public could at once support by acclamation. It is also a thing which has actually been tried and done before.
The French and Spanish colonies, who have no local autonomy, have been given representation in their mother countries, and even the right of voting there; indeed, a black man has once represented Martinique in the Parliament of France, and surely English colonists, educated to manage their local affairs by means of free representative institutions, would be found as much more fit than delegates from such colonies to sit in a home Parliament as a grown-up man is more competent to exercise the duties of a citizen than a child in swaddling clothes.
But it has also been objected that to allow colonists to come and sit in one or both Houses of Parliament would be unjustly and unwisely to give them the power to interfere by their votes in the domestic affairs of the British Isles, which do not concern them, and perhaps even to upset a Ministry enjoying the confidence of the people of England.
To this the answer is that representation can exist, and indeed did, as a necessary fact, exist, in reasonable governments, for thousands of years before voting was ever dreamt of, and still exists where voting is unknown. So that representation is an absolutely distinct and separate thing from voting power, which is not at all in question in this discussion, in which likewise the subject of proportionate representation has no place. The latter comes in with taxation, which is not to be thought of. As an illustration of what I have stated, I may quote the fact that what are called Territories' in the United States—that is, parts enjoying local autonomy, of course, but not included in any recognised State,' and not possessing sufficient population to be constituted a State—are allowed, as a matter of course, to be represented in the National Legislature by delegates who have a voice but no vote in its deliberations. And in like manner the representatives of any of the British colonies might be given a voice, but no vote, in one or other, or both Houses of Parliament, if they wished to make use of the privilege, and a small new colony would be heard just as well as a big one, and perhaps might need a hearing more urgently.
Such colonial representatives might even be restricted from speaking, or even from sitting, while subjects which in no way concerned them were under deliberation; although it is possible that even in home matters colonial statesmen might teach English ones something. They certainly did so effectively in regard to the ballot. They study political problems sometimes under simpler or more favourable conditions. It must also be assumed that colonists will not be likely to elect, or retain as their representatives, fools who would make themselves a nuisance, and that the Houses of Parliament, and those who preside in them, may be trusted to manage their own affairs in these respects.
Some objectors point out that the time of members in the House of Commons is too overwhelmingly taken up with other business to listen to more speeches, and those from outsiders. Well, that House