Слике страница
PDF
ePub

one, will suffice to return him. He will rely mainly on the distribution of his address, for which he will have free postage. Even under present conditions the majority of the electors in most large constituencies certainly do not hear each candidate in person during a general election. And wise independent candidates will take care to address as many meetings as possible before a dissolution arrives. It might indeed be plausibly argued that county divisions with five or more members would be rather difficult for a single independent candidate to cover ; but inasmuch as the typical independent candidate is a minority candidate, he is really getting under proportionalism a chance which he would otherwise not get at all; and his special labour is a burden which he is presumably glad to bear,

Of all the objections before us the most reasonable is unquestionably the sixth, that proportionalism partly breaks down in the case of bye-elections. That is to say, while the danger of a 'split ’in these cases is met by the provision for resort to the transferable vote in the case of there being more than two candidates, the occurrence of a vacancy through the death or resignation of a minority member will be apt to mean the loss of representation by his particular minority for the time being. If, indeed, the standard of electoral courtesy can be maintained at the level which it reached in Manchester in 1883, and at which it has stood during the present war, in such cases the minority in question might be permitted, as would be right and seemly, to fill the seat at its choice without a contest. It is perhaps not too much to hope that this will really become the practice, at least in the case of vacancies by death. If, further, there is secured the much-needed reform of abolishing the law which forces a Minister on his appointment to seek re-election, the number of bye-elections will be greatly reduced. And there is the alternative of co-optation. But even if the stress of party strife should lead to a snatching at the opportunity by the majority parties, with the result of imposing an election for one member upon the entire constituency, the relative hardship inflicted for the time being on the minority concerned will be a trifle in comparison with the perpetual hardship to which it is now subjected. A minority so treated would just have to bide its time till the next general election; and its just resentment at the withdrawal of its representation would probably be

a consideration not without weight for candidates of other parties who might hope for some of that minority's support in general elections.

As regards grouped candidates of one party, the argument that they will be made jealous of each other by reason of their special appeals for first preferences is found in practice to be entirely beside the case. It is actually found that, instead of their bidding for first preferences, it becomes a point of honour and courtesy among them to abstain from any such appeal. A candidate who should infringe this code would lose caste by doing so. This result is perfectly in keeping with all normal human experience; and the objection under notice may therefore be dismissed with perfect confidence. Curiously enough, it is put forward in a pamphlet issued in opposition to proportionalism by the Committee of the London Liberal Federation—a body which in 1913 passed unanimously a recommendation in favour of Proportional Representation for Borough Councils. It would seem that the notorious 'swing of the pendulum' in 1907, when the ‘Progressive' majority of forty-nine in the London County Council was at one stroke changed to a 'Moderate' majority of forty-one, had the effect of converting the Federation to belief in proportionalism for Borough Councils, while the memory of 1906 still keeps its Committee averse to proportionalism for parliamentary constituencies. An argument which supports the latter attitude without explaining the former is clearly unsatisfactory; but no explanation is offered, and no good explanation suggests itself. And yet the experience of London Liberals has not been at all favourable to the system of singleseated constituencies. Lord Eversley gives the figures for the last three elections :

Unionist Members.

Liberal and Labour

Members.

1906 1910 (Jan.) 1910 (Dec.)

But he omits to mention that in the elections of 1895 and 1900 only eight Liberals were returned for London. Few London Liberals will admit that even the 1910 figures repre

sent the real strength of London Liberalism. They rather indicate the backwash of the London reaction of 1907. Under proportionalism the results would in all likelihood be nearer the figures of 1906.

If there be no more inward explanation, the cause of the present attitude of the London Liberal Federation may probably be found in the apprehensions set up by the fact that so many Conservatives have latterly been converted to proportionalism. Such an argument would indeed be characteristic of a party caucus, but it is absolutely at variance with the principles of Liberalism. The Liberal test of the merits of a political proposal has hitherto been the question, Is it just ? Half a century ago Mill, discussing Disraeli's attack on Lord John Russell for his plan of three-cornered constituencies with two votes to each elector, observed that

• it would be a great improvement if each party understood and acted upon its own principles. Well would it be for England if Conservatives voted consistently for everything conservative, and Liberals for everything liberal. We should not then have to wait long for things which, like the present and many other great measures, are eminently both the one and the other.'

If that appeal be not sufficient to persuade alike Liberals and Conservatives, four more may be added in conclusion. 1. It is the well-considered opinion of many thoughtful politicians in the United States that a system proportional representation might have averted the American Civil War, by preventing the unification of political action in the Slave States, where at the outset there were many friends of the Union. (2) The system has given to the political life of Belgium a stability that has endured the earthquake shock of the present war. (3) Such a system would at this moment greatly add to the stability of the Imperial element in the South African Union, by giving effect to the vote of the Botha minority in the Orange State. (4) And such a system would healthfully modify the opposition to compromise both in Ulster and in Nationalist Ireland, where minority opinions are still more unrepresented than is Conservatism in Scotland and Wales or Liberalism in the Home counties. On all hands, by all testimonies, the method of justice promotes political stability. How can it act otherwise in the United Kingdom ?

J. M. ROBERTSON.

THE PROBLEM OF A SECOND CHAMBER

1. Reports from His Majesty's Representatives Abroad respecting

the Composition and Functions of the Second or Upper

Chamber in Foreign States. Cd. 3824. 1907. 2. Report on Select Committee of the House of Lords. 234.

1908. 3. Return to an Order of the House of Lords. 8 March, 1910. 4. The Reform of the House of Lords. By W. S. McKECHNIE.

Maclehose. 1909. 5. Senates and Upper Chambers. By H. W. V. TEMPERLEY.

Chapman and Hall. 1910. 6. The House of Lords during the Civil War. By C. H. FIRTH.

Longmans. 1910.

THE existing House of Commons was elected, nearly seven

1 years ago, with a mandate for the reform of the Legislature. It is at present engaged upon the task of extending the electoral franchise and rearranging the electoral areas. But the branch of the Legislature to which the mandate of 1910 referred was not the House of Commons but the House of Lords. The powers of the Second Chamber were severely curtailed by the Parliament Act of 1911; the Preamble to that Act announced, with all the solemnity which can attach to a Preamble, an intention to substitute for the House of 'Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted 'on a popular instead of hereditary basis ’; but nothing has yet been done to give effect to that intention.

So long, however, as the pledge is unredeemed we must continue to put up with a mere torso of a Constitution. Nor will the anomaly and danger of the situation be diminished by the passing—if it does pass of the Representation of the People Bill. On the contrary the balance of forces within the State will be still further disturbed. The Lower House will presumably derive from an enlarged electorate an accession of authority; the Second Chamber will remain more obviously than ever in a state of suspended animation; its powers almost annihilated, its constitution unreformed. That our

political institutions will consequently be left in a state of very unstable equilibrium will be denied by no one who has given serious thought to the working of the constitutional machine.

On one point there appears to be a general agreement. No responsible person, so far as the present writer is aware, to-day suggests the possibility of recurring to the experiment of a unicameral legislature. In the heat of revolutionary fervour Frenchmen were tempted to endorse the shallow sophistry by which the Abbé Sieyès commended the unicameral system : 'If a Second Chamber dissents from the First it is mischievous ; 'if it agrees with it, it is superfluous. Thus characteristically, with an epigrammatic dilemma, did the prince of constitutionmakers dismiss the teaching of experience. The first unicameral experiment in France lasted less than half a decade. The second French experiment in unicameralism was made in 1848, and its duration was less even than that of the first. Despite many changes of dynasty and constitution, in all their oscillations from Republicanism to Imperialism, from Imperialism to Legitimacy, from Legitimacy to Orleanism, from Orleanism to Buonapartism, and again from Buonapartism to Republicanism, Frenchmen have never been tempted to renew this particular experiment.

It is, however, only fair for an English writer to recall the fact that in 1789 republican France was merely following the example of republican England. One of the first acts of the Commons of England after the execution of King Charles I. was to abolish and take away the ‘House of Lords in Parlia'ment.' But the unicameral experiment inaugurated by the Commonwealth in March 1649 very quickly demonstrated its futility. The Humble Petition and Advice' drafted in March 1657 suggested the re-establishment of a Second Chamber. Cromwell himself highly approved of the proposal :

by the proceedings of this Parliament you see they stand in ' need of a check or balancing power.'

But no deference to quasi-constitutional forms could for long conceal the verities of the situation. Cromwell was Lord Protector not by the suffrages of the people but by grace of the Ironsides. Real parliamentary government could only be restored along with the hereditary Monarchy. In 1660 supreme authority was once more vested, according to ancient formula, in King, Lords, and Commons.

« ПретходнаНастави »