« FöregåendeFortsätt »
killed, mangled, and missing, it is more difficult to render strict account. It would puzzle ingenuity to reduce the new laws to an easy classification and avoid cross-division ; but as the major part relate to details of administration, and as we seek only those of more prominent importance, they may be stated under four heads—constitutional, administrative, social, including regulations affecting the rights of persons and property, and last, though not least in the regard of tax-payers—financial measures.
The legislative year dawned with some promise of hope for the sanguine few who retained faith in Whig liberalism. Mysterious club rumours were early afloat of some gigantic scheme of electoral reform, which was to surprise the whole liberal world, and it was known to every one that the Premier was this year prepared, for the sake of his party, to throw himself and finality into the Irish gulph, where once flourished a constituency. The hope was very forlorn; rumour, barren as ever, brought forth nothing; and Curtius the little only sacrificed the last remnant of his popularity. We are as little disposed as is Dr. Lingard himself to indulge in over-speculative inquiries into the motives of historic men; but this is a case too common-place to require the intuition of history. The Parliamentary Voters' (Ireland) Bill was as mean, and withal as unprincipled, a measure as the Whigs ever presented to Parliament; and supported by obviously mean and selfish motives of party interest. It contains not one shadow of constitutional principle -no acknowledgment of popular right, but is a gross sacrifice to expediency and oligarchism. In a word, it was a Whig preparation for the possibilities of a coming election—a stop-gap against the probabilities of an Irish protectionist and anti-Whig majority. Ireland loses her constituency because she is too poor and miserable to retain anything; and Lord John, by way of making matters better, proposes another, which pre-supposes a nation with countless abundance. His magnificently liberal proposal of an £8 franchise, at the lowest calculation, is only equal to £30 in England. The hereditary house of Incapables heightened the joke by increasing electoral virtue and purity to nearly £50; and the House of Commons, to show its independence and public spirit, split the difference, and accepted £40, or, in other words, the £12 clause. They, however, insisted on the retention of the compulsory registration clause, and thus preserved the best feature of the measure. Such is the great Irish Reform Bill of 1850. The Elections (Ireland) Bill, requiring no statesmanship, was tolerably secure from blunders; it contains some useful provisions for increasing the facilities of exercising the franchise—such as it is, or is to be.
The Australian Colonies Government Act will be a monument to the legislative and administrative incapacity of the Whig Government. It has been fondly described as the great measure' of the session; and if greatness is to be measured by want of principle, common political foresight, and ministerial honour, the Australian Magna Charta is great exceedingly. Early in the session, the Premier unfolded the views of his Cabinet on the general system of colonial policy which he was prepared to recommend. After warning Canadian annexationists of the
determined will' of the Sovereign and her advisers, he proceeded to inform the House that it was resolved that the Cape colony should have representative institutions by way of legislative council and legislative assembly. Here the favourite policy of uniformity d la Procrustes halted. New South Wales was only to have a single assembly (one-third of its members to be elected by Government), but was hereafter to have the power of demanding two chambers if it wished them. Port Phillip to be separated from New South Wales, and to be called Victoria ; and Van Dieman's Land, and South and Western Australia, were also to share in the blessings of these free institutions. Poor New Zealand to rest content, in hope for the famous constitution octroyé of Lord Grey. With the largest admission of the right to self-government, Mrs. Mother-Country was still to be permitted to hold her heavy hands over her wandering sons. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the bill for the better government of her Majesty's Australian colonies,' which has alone fructified, is the geographical discovery that Van Dieman's Land is in Australia. Our constitution-makers proposed, in the first place, to establish a federal assembly, to be called “The General Assembly of Australia.' Two members to be returned for each of the Legislative Councils, and for every additional 15,000 inhabitants an additional member. The equity and wisdom of this proposal will be manifest by a glance at the map. The federal principle is doubtless a very admirable one, as the United States of America prove; but it is a result and the consequence of independent, free, and self-governing states. It will come in time, as the supreme authority in the great antipodal commonwealth which Anglo-Saxon enterprise is founding; but the Whigs sapiently began to make the roof before they laid the constitutional foundations. That the measure is almost as unreadable as it is politically unworkable, a glance will show. In New South Wales the Chamber is to consist of 36 members, 24 of whom are to be elected by the people: the remainder to be nominated by the Crown, which is virtually giving all authority and influence to the Crown. True, the colonists are empowered to alter, if they see fit; but this is only to create heart-burnings,
and divisions, and strife, when a hearty unanimity of sentiment and action is essential as the first step to success. Why not, as Mr. Hume pertinently suggested, give the colonies the option of one or two Chambers ? All, however, that was said, and very forcibly said, on this point, was resisted by the Government assertion, supported by some very petty equivocation from the red-tapists, that the proposal was in accordance with the wishes of the colonists. And this was said in opposition to the recorded opinion of Sir William Denison, in favour of two Chambers; of Sir C. Fitzroy to the like effect; and by the preference declared by the existing Legislative Council of New South Wales, composed as it is of government nominees. This has been unanswerably confirmed by the subsequent public testimony of Mr. Lowe, a distinguished member of the Legislative Council at Sydney. 'I am enabled to state,' said Mr. Lowe, in his able address to the Colonial Reform Society, on the 3rd of June last, while the bill was still in progress— I am enabled to state, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that, notwithstanding all that has been alleged to the contrary in the House of Commons, there is no feeling whatever in the Australian colonies against the existence of two Chambers as such. Though there have been disputes as to whether there should be one or two Councils or Chambers, those disputes have always been raised, and the arguments always conducted, upon matters totally irrespective of the real and practical, or even the abstract merits of the case. On the other hand, Mr. Lowe showed that there was the most indisputably complete feeling against the system of nomination. In this respect the Whigs have not advanced beyond the political blunders of Pitt-in oppressing the Canadas with the bureaucratic weight of a nominated council. The talk about preserving the power of the Crown-in other words, the irresponsible misgovernment of the Colonial Officeis the most nauseous cant, coming from the lips of men who profess the principles of self-government. If the Whigs are really anxious to grant self-government, and, as their act asserts, to give the colonists a right to choose for themselves, why not resort to the natural order of things, and empower the existing colonial authorities to convene constituent assemblies for the free discussion of these vital points. Looking at the whole question, unbiassed by any views of interest in the matter, we cannot see that this great Whig measure has done more for the colonies than to weaken the ties of affection which bind them to the mother country; for, sooner or later, they must exercise their inalienable right of choosing for themselves. We need not enlarge on the details of a measure as pregnant with colonial and intercolonial contentions, as it is devoid of sound political expediency, further than to say that Government did not insist on the federal clauses in the House of Lords.
The constitutional acts of omission are more numerous. Mr. Moffat's Bankrupt and Insolvent Members Bill deservedly received the coup de grace of a hearty rejection. We have little sympathy for the class ostensibly affected by this bill ; but we have a paramount respect for the rights of the people to choose whom they will to represent their wants and wishes in the national council. The best cure for the evil is to teach the people better notions with respect to the solemn responsibilities and qualifications of the office of representative of the people ; that the wealth of trade has as little to do with legislative capacity as the birth of aristocracy. Englishmen have something to unlearn in this respect, ere they are set to spell their political primers. Mr. Moffat's bill was one of the most repulsive Mamnon offerings of the session. Pity it is that his constituents cannot find him something better to do. Lord John Russell's unbrotherly treatment of his colleague in the representation of London is so well known to every newspaper reader, that we need say nothing of the Oath of Abjuration Bill, nor of its manifold subordinate details. This last remnant of religious serfage must fall, and we hope that in its fall it will carry away the whole rotten fabric of parliamentary oaths and perjuries. The representative owes responsibility to his constituents alone; give them their constitutional right of free and frequent choice, and no oaths will be required to bind to duty. For Lord John Russell's glorious share in the business, it is probable the freemen of London will bear him grateful remembrance. A useful measure by Sir W. Clay, for giving the franchise to householders whose landlords compound for rates, was entombed with all the utilities. The grand adjustment is, however, hastening.
Of the class of motions we have a long list. The great and little charters had each a field-day. Mr. Feargus O'Conner's was summarily disposed of by a count out;' Mr. Hume's motion had the honour of a discussion. There was little of novelty in the debate. The Whig opponents, however, seem to be slipping away from the old ground of finality; they sadly fear, dear guardian spirits of Old England, that a new agitation might prove injurious to the firm establishment of free trade! The
The strength of the Colonial Reform party is indicated by some of the divisions. Mr. Mowatt's amendment against nominees of the Crown having seats in the Legislative Assembly, was rejected by 165 to 77; and Mr. Walpole's, for two Chambers, by 198 to 147; Sir William Molesworth's, to the same effect, was rejected by 218 to 150. The third reading was carried in the House of Commons by 226 to 128.
general opposition was chiefly confined to vague insolencies on the rights of property against the rights of men, and the motion was rejected by 242 to 96. Mr. M Gregor's claim for the transfer of the forfeited privileges of Sudbury to the metropolitan districts around Chelsea and Kensington, obviously proposed without due consideration to the rights of other places, was rejected early in the session. At a later period Mr. Locke King made a moderate demand for the assimilation of the county franchise in England and Wales to that of the boroughs. No one could foresee any constitutional' objection; and Lord John, who generally objects that reformers ask too soon, now objected because they asked too late, in the session. This motion was rejected by 159 to 100. The ballot-box had an airing under the guardianship of Mr. Henry Berkeley, but was soon shut up again by 176 to 121. It seems to us bad policy to isolate this question. If fate should render it coexistent with our limited electoral class, the ballot would shut out the non-freemen from the asserted responsibility which Russelite philosophers allege is due to them by the freemen. Under the true old English system, to which we must come again in a developed form, when every man shall be a free man, it is as much opposed to the fundamental principles of popular institutions as it is to healthy morals. With true freedom of election, the ballot, we submit, would not be a social necessity, as the Virginian republic has freely and honourably testified. A matter of parliamentary form deserves a word of notice. In resolutions passed by the House of Commons, the House has generally the opportunity of reconsideration ; but in addresses to the Crown the action is immediately operative, and the Crown must obey, or place itself in antagonism to the people. Lord John Russell sees inconvenience in it, and proposes to amend by referring all such addresses to a committee, a report from which would afford the desired opportunity for rediscussion. It is a small matter, unquestionably, as the antagonist elements of the State are now so quietly settled; but for times of hostility between kings and people the utility of the rule is obvious. The question only claims notice as an indication of insatiate desire to tinker away old rights.
The next class of measures relates to public administration. These are upwards of forty in number, but as the larger portion consist of routine and other formal matters of detail, the subjects of comment may be reduced to easy statement. The most creditable reforms of the session are some of those which relate to the administration of the law. We are chiefly indebted, as well directly as through good example, to the talents and unsectarian spirit of the learned gentleman, who in the early part