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purposes' would meet all reasonable requirements; in other words, that the system of conferences for discussion, forbidden to reach any conclusion, could not be improved upon. This official repugnance to effectual reform was founded on the assumptions that ministerial responsibility is indivisible; that one body of Ministers must be collectively answerable for the conduct of imperial policy; and that those Ministers must be the British Cabinet, and accordingly can be answerable only to the British House of Commons. We have now discovered that this supposed fundamental point of our Constitution was little better than an idol, whose cult was maintained for quite different reasons by publicists who wanted a neat theory and by party managers anxious to consolidate their discipline. In 1917 the War Cabinet already contained, as actual members and not as mere assessors, representative Ministers from the Dominions not de-pendent on the British Parliament for their tenure of office, but on their own parliaments. Such dependence is all that, in modern practice, ministerial responsibility signifies; and therefore those formerly magic words can no longer be treated as a sacrosanct and impassable barrier to political invention. For many years those of us who perceived the importance of the matter have been considering in what manner and form the Dominions could best be called to our councils; and now we see them, under the stress of war, summoned not only for counsel but to take a direct share of command. In view of this fact it becomes less important to consider how far ministerial responsibility of our own domestic pattern can be suitable for the government of a federation; but it is not a wholly unimportant fact that the institution is alike unknown to the oldest and the greatest of existing federal systems, those of Switzerland and of the United States.
It remains to see how the Imperial War Cabinet may be regularly continued in time of peace, and what alternative methods and forms the special Imperial Conference to be summoned after the war, or any fuller constituent convention to which it may lead, is likely to have before it. For the purpose of appreciating the magnitude of the step or rather leap that has now been taken, we must recall the former state of things in which the public were
indifferent, Governments for the most part unwilling to move, and some very able students unable to see any clear way to organic change.
III. Constructive Methods.
So long ago as 1892, before the conferences first known as Colonial and since 1907 as Imperial had taken any regular shape, Dr Parkin stated the problem and pointed out two ways of solution. One would be the deliberate framing of a constitution for the Empire, after the precedent of the Union of England and Scotland; the other would be a policy of gradual but steady adaptation of existing national machinery to the new work which must be done.' The obvious difficulty of the former method lies in providing adequate means for securing general agreement as to the kind of constitution we want. The less obvious risk of the latter is that the bearing of partial expedients on the fabric of Empire as a whole may not be fully perceived at the time. The method of gradual approach appeared, for many years, the only practicable one.
It is unnecessary to go back in detail to the shortlived promise of the original Imperial Federation League and the complete breakdown of its plans when they reached the point of asking for definite undertakings. During the last twenty years there have been proposals for the establishment of a Council or other body in the nature of a reinforced Imperial Conference, which would remain in being when it was not actually sitting, and would always be entitled to be heard by the King's British Ministers, though not to have any direct control over their decisions or any part in the final judgment thereon. The plan outlined by the Lyttelton Despatch'* of April 1905 was of this kind. The Council was to be assisted by a standing Commission for confidential enquiry and report, whose work on civil matters of common interest would be analogous to that of the Imperial Defence Committee for naval and military purposes. But it was not to have any more formal constitution of its own than the previous Colonial conferences; in fact
* 1905, Cd 2785. This was published in Nov. 1905.
'it would merely be a continuation, under a more appropriate title, of the existing Colonial conferences which meet periodically for consultative purposes,' as the Secretary of State explained in reply to the not very intelligent answer of the Government of Newfoundland. Even this modest proposal was too much, at that time, for Canada, whose one active contribution to the proceedings of 1907 was the change of title from Colonial' to 'Imperial' Conference, as a compromise avoiding the dangerous name of Council.*
It would be an entire mistake to regard the Lyttelton Dispatch as a timid experiment; its fault consisted in being rather too far in advance of what the Dominions were then ready to accept. In one or two quarters the plan was completely misunderstood. The Dominions were still haunted, in various degrees, by the spectre of a plot hatched in Downing Street to destroy their autonomy and extort contributions for the purposes of some imaginary British adventure. Certainly some of us hoped, and did not conceal our hope, that, if the Dominions did approve the establishment of an advisory Council, and if that Council were properly constituted and acted with proper discretion, its advice would in time acquire such weight that the following of it would become a custom. However, we are already beyond that stage. Ten years ago we were feeling about for a constitutional link between the Parliament at Westminster, with the Cabinet executing its will (or at any rate something consistent with its will), and the Parliaments of the Dominions. What we have to look for now is a permanent link between the Imperial War Cabinet, in which the Dominions are already represented, and all the Parliaments of the Empire. We have already seen that the continuation of the Imperial Cabinet after the war is assured.
The establishment of some kind of permanent central body with its own staff is a necessary element in any solution of the problem which is to be acceptable. It is not of itself a solution, though ten years ago it might have been the beginning of one; provision of improved means for conference and consultation gives no new
For a fuller account sec 'Q. R.,' vol. 206 (Jan., April, 1907).
constitutional right. There is no doubt, however, that the existence of such a body, under whatever name, independent of the Colonial Office-a condition on which Australia and New Zealand are sure to insist-would, as a symbol of the new policy, signify much. It is compatible alike with grandiose and with relatively modest plans of imperial construction.
The plans hitherto suggested may be classed under two types. The more ambitious projectors want a federal parliament, created by a full-blown written constitution; the less ambitious think a council representing states rather than population might be sufficient. We may neglect minuter shades of difference for the present, and look in the first place to the general requirements that a scheme of either type ought to satisfy. The machinery must not be so cumbrous as to be useless on urgent occasions. Under cabinet government as we have it executive action can be very prompt; and this is one of the chief merits of our constitution. It would not do to lose or impair it for the sake of some theoretical point of symmetry. Again, any real constitutional change must derogate to some extent from the sovereignty of the component states, including the United Kingdom (which advocates of imperial reconstruction sometimes glide over or forget); but the derogation should be as little as will suffice for the purpose.
It needs no elaborate argument to show that some derogation there must be. A new A new common power to deal with the common affairs of a number of states can be made only by taking it out of the several powers of those states, for there is nothing else to make it of. Legally, of course, only the sovereignty of the home Parliament would be affected; it may well be desirable even to keep it formally alive, though dormant, in case of unforeseen accidents; but in practical politics the Dominions, as already explained, are rather in the. position of allies who cannot renounce the alliance but are not bound to any defined active duties. In substance,
* Such as the need for repealing or amending old Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as to which no human skill could make sure of escaping oversight. It would be difficult to provide any new machinery for that purpose.
whatever may be the form preferred, the House of Commons at Westminster has to give up its existing sole and supreme control of foreign and imperial affairs. The Dominions on their part have to surrender some of their present absolute discretion as to concerted action in the future. Plainly the greater renunciation will be at Westminster, but the Dominions cannot acquire an effective and formally recognised share of control without undertaking any kind of obligation.
At the same time nobody likes parting with rights or privileges, and contention in such matters is apt to be far sharper than the actual value of the point in dispute seems to warrant. Therefore economy of means is desirable, and we should not conceive ourselves set down with a spacious blank sheet to write a statutory constitution upon. Many reforms in English law would have been better accomplished if the reformers had begun by asking themselves, not what kind of Act of Parliament they wanted, but how much they could do without an Act, and, if legislation there must be, how little would serve. There is at least one modern example of noble and learned persons having been parties, as legislators, to a supposed innovation which turned out to be a not wholly adequate formulation of principles already laid down by their lordships in their judicial capacity.
There is one feature in some projects that is represented by its advocates as necessary, but appears to me quite unnecessary and not a little dangerous; I mean the creation of an imperial financial authority with direct taxing power over the several states of the Empire. I have seen no evidence whatever that any Dominion is prepared to admit that particular kind of interference; indeed there is a good deal of evidence to the contrary. New Zealand has gone farthest among the Dominions in advocating closer union in general terms; but neither Mr Massey nor Sir Joseph Ward reject any encroachment on fiscal autonomy.* Moreover, I shrewdly suspect that the Scot, the Irishman, and even the more patient Englishman would not be much readier than Canadians or Australians to welcome a new species of
* 1917, Cd 8566, pp. 43, 51, 58.