صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



JULY, 1886.


We live in an age when decen

tralization in government is preferred to centralization. This tendency of the age is thoroughly healthy. It does not arise so much from a reaction against the somewhat refined notions of central government that have prevailed now for some time, as from the impotency of the central government to discharge its varied functions. On all sides the Imperial Parliament is pressed for legislative enactments and for measures of constitutional enquiry. It courageously attempts at the beginning of each session to satisfy all parties, but signally fails to satisfy any. Year after year passes by, and the same tale is told. The arrears of legislation are rapidly increasing. The present system of Parliamentary government hampers every industry and injures nearly every class. question naturally enough has been put-can anything be done to remedy this defect in our Constitution; and the answer invariably given is Decentralize. We are asked to make the people govern themselves, to throw upon them the responsibility of all local administrative acts at least. This is what political philosophy prescribes as the true solvent. It is not the proposal that needs to be justified in the face of science; it is the resistance to it that needs such justification. The cry is not for small states; they are out of the question; the course

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of empire is quite the other way. For that very reason the decentralizing system becomes indispensable.

We must not be misunderstood. We do not believe in the efficacy of localization in every case, any more than we believe in the efficacy of centralization in every case. There are those who think that the principles are opposed to each other; that if the one is good, the other must necessarily be bad. But the supposition is erroneous. The conflict that here arises is due to the attendant circumstances that impede or vitiate the action of one or both; it does not arise from the qualities that are inherent in both. The complete development and unfettered activity of both are the only effectual means of bringing the supposed antagonism to a close; they do not aggravate or perpetuate the antagonism. The principles are sound and healthy. It is an error in fact as it is a solecism in language to say that either may be carried too far. So long as a sound principle is adhered to, it can never become a false principle. No amount of local or individual energy or freedom can be excessive, for such qualities are the very blood and life of central power. No central power can be too vigorous, prompt or omniscient, for it is thus only a more perfect instrument for the development of local energy and the vindication of individual freedom. But every true principle has its corresponding false principle; and the moment the true principle is successful in asserting its own exclusive recognition it is liable in practical operation to be confused with its corresponding false principle. It is then that the beneficial operation of the true principle is stultified, and error creeps in. A return to truth in such cases is practicable only by means of an analysis of the circumstances that have tended to impede the operation of the true principle. Of these phenomena we have many examples in history. Our present Parliamentary Constitution is an example. Our present Parliamentary Constitution is found wanting, not because it has become too prompt or omniscient but because it has proved itself unable to accomplish the work which it is necessary for it to do. Hence it is we urge a reconsideration of the ties that at present bind England and Scotland, and we

trust that in the discussion of this question no one will object to anything that may be advocated on the ground of antiquarian sentimentalism.

Our present Parliamentary government is the result of the growth of centuries. Generally speaking it has grown gradually; at very few dates in its history has it been subject to violent changes. Yet changes have occurred when it has been found that the existing system did not work well. That the present system works badly cannot be doubted. The real difficulty is the quantity of business thrown upon the legislative body. The mere quantity of work is too great for any assembly to do well. Every year the work to be done is overpassing the working power of the machinery. Things are rapidly coming to a serious block, if not a deadlock, and something must be done. The number of interests with which Parliament has to deal has immensely increased, while the working power of Parliament has not increased. Every decennial census shows that the interests to be attended to are continually increasing. There is a continual growth of specialization of labour. Separate trades seek separate localities, and in consequence new legislative and administrative measures are needed. Each new invention and each new adaptation of an old process lead to new ways of carrying on business. The manufacturer, the workman and the shop-keeper of Glasgow are dependent for their well-being not only on each other's conduct, but also on the course of events in other parts of the Empire and in other countries. There is a keener sympathy between one marketing town and another, and this becomes intensified as the commercial area extends. In fact, the train, the steamship, the printing press, and the telegraph give inducements and facilities for enterprise in all directions, and call for changes in the condition of our Parliamentary life. Then again population has enormously increased. Consider the difference in this respect between the Parliament of 1708 and that of 1886, even between the Parliament of 1800 and that of 1886. In 1800 Parliament had to attend to the wants of some ten millions of people, in 1886 to the wants of some thirty-five millions. Since 1800

we have added, outside these islands, millions of people and thousands of square miles to our Empire, yet the system of government is practically the same. If England ever fails as a nation, says Sir Arthur Helps, it will be from too much pressure of business. The union of several parliaments into one, said Sir George Grey, has thrown upon that one an amount of business that it cannot perform. It was remarked with some degree of truth by one of the London newspapers the other day that Parliament is such an obsolete machine that it cannot get through a tenth part of its work.' Even of the newly dissolved Parliament with its great appetite for work, nothing satisfactory can be reported as to the progress made in either private bills or government measures. Mr. Gladstone's famous programme has not been looked at nor any of the questions so eagerly canvassed at the election which preceded it, and the session has passed away with hardly anything attempted and nothing done.

It is true that we have made great changes within the last forty years in the manner in which business is conducted in the House of Commons. The direction of all these changes, however, has been towards the abridgement of the freedom, or at least of the fullness of debate and the curtailment of the privileges of private members. They have been all made with a view to enable the Ministers of the Crown to expedite government business through the House. The subject is a large one and not to be incidentally discussed. But certainly the necessity of 'getting through' the work that has been cast upon it has induced the House to depart from many of its ancient traditions, and give up many of its most valuable privileges which were once considered essential protections of the independence of its own members and of the rights of the people.

This glut of Parliamentary business is no new thing. Twenty years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech at Dundee complained bitterly that Scottish business in the House had not been attended to. Many useful Scottish reforms that Scotland had been ripe for had been postponed again and again. Even Mr. Disraeli sympathized with Scottish

members in many of their measures never becoming legislative enactments. The same may be said of other parts of the kingdom. But what Scotsmen have to complain most of is that on vital questions of policy she has obtained no hearing. Scotland waited thirty years for the extension of the Franchise, and about half-a-century for the abolition of hypothec, and even yet hypothec occasionally turns up. It were easy to give a long catalogue of measures of practical utility—about the necessity for which there is little controversy-which every year are certainly promised the next session, and as to which we year after year await with a patience like Job's the fulfilment of the annual promise. She has been anxiously waiting to pronounce an opinion on the Church question, the licensing question, the land question, the game question, the question of university reform and education generally, and various questions dealing with commerce, poor law and legal procedure. Pages could be filled with a list of similar questions. Yet such questions have been neglected in the Imperial Parliament. But this is only part of the evil. There is the whole question of private bill legislation. It is intolerable that as often as we require a gas, or a water, or an improvement bill we must go to London for it, in which are involved the undue costs and inconvenience to which the promoters of such bills are subjected by the needless reiteration of the same evidence before committees of each of the two Houses of Parliament, and also the expenses of a long journey and of a protracted stay and maintenance in London, along with the disadvantage of the objects of the bills being examined into by committees and lawyers both commonly alike ignorant of the circumstances of the country and of its legislation. Add to this the fact that many stories are told of the miscarriage of useful projects owing to the cost, delay and risks of bringing the business to London. There is hardly any reason to doubt that it would be for the public interest that such business should be done by a tribunal in Scotland under whose authority inquiries might be made in the localities affected. It is sometimes hinted that there would be jobbery. Even if there were jobbery, the jobbery would most likely be less

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