« PreviousContinue »
take care that none of the rights and privileges, always claimed, and since the accession of his Majesty's illustrious family constantly exercised, by this House, (and which we hold and exercise in trust for the Commons of Great Britain, and for their benefit,) shall be constructively surrendered, or even weakened and impaired under ambiguous phrases, and implications of censure on the late parliamentary proceed. ings. If these claims are not well-founded, they ought to be honestly abandoned ; if they are just, they ought to be steadily and resolutely maintained.
Of his Majesty's own gracious disposition towards the true principles of our free constitution, his faithful Commons never did, or could, entertain a doubt: but we humbly beg leave to express to his Majesty our uneasiness concerning other new and unusual expressions of his ministers, declaratory of a resolution “to support in their just balance, the rights and privileges of every branch of the legislature."
It were desirable that all hazardous theories concerning a balance of rights and privileges (a mode of expression wholly foreign to parliamentary usage) might have been forborne. His Majesty's faithful Commons are well instructed in their own rights and privileges, which they are determined to maintain on the footing upon which they were handed down from their ancestors : they are not unacquainted with the were regulated; some of them suppressed, and the rest reduced to fixed salaries. To secure the freedom of election against the crown, a bill was passed to disqualify all officers concerned in the collection of the revenue in any of its branches from voting in elections; a most important act, not only with regard to its primary object, the freedom of election, but as materially forwarding the due collection of revenue. For the same end, (the preserving the freedom of election,) the House rescinded the famous judgment relative to the Middlesex election, and expunged it from the journals. On the principle of reformation of their own House, connected with a principle of public economy, an act passed for rendering contractors with government incapable of a seat in parliament. The India Bill (unfortunately lost in the House of Lords) pursued the same idea to its completion; and disabled all servants of the East-India Company from a seat in that House for a certain time, and until their conduct was examined into and cleared. The remedy of infinite corruptions and of infinite disorders and oppressions, as well as the security of the most important objects of public economy, perished with that bill and that parliament. That parliament also instituted a committee to inquire into the collection of the revenue in all its branches, which prosecuted its duty with great vigour; and suggested several material improvements.
rights and privileges of the House of Peers; and they know and respect the lawful prerogatives of the crown: but they do not think it safe to admit anything concerning the existence of a balance of those rights, privileges, and prerogatives ; nor are they able to discern to what object ministers would apply their fiction of balance; nor what they would consider as a just one. These unauthorized doctrines have a tendency to stir improper discussions; and to lead to mischievous innovations in the constitution.
That his faithful Commons most humbly recommend, instead of the inconsiderate speculations of unexperienced men, that, on all occasions, resort should be had to the happy practice
" If these speculations are let loose, the House of Lords may quarrel with their share of the legislature, as being limited with regard to the origination of grants to the crown and the origination of money bills. The advisers of the crown may think proper to bring its negative into ordinary use; and even to dispute, whether a mere negative, compared with the deliberative power, exercised in the other Houses, be such a share in the legislature, as to produce a due balance in favour of that branch; and thus justify the previous interference of the crown, in the manner lately used. The following will serve to show how much foundation there is for great caution, concerning these novel speculations. Lord Shelburne, in his celebrated Speech, April 8th, 1778, expresses himself as follows. Vide Parliamentary Register, vol. X.
“ The noble and learned lord on the woolsack, in the debate which opened the business of this day, asserted that your lordships were incompetent to make any alteration in a money bill or a bill of supply. I should be glad to see the matter fully and fairly discussed, and the subject brought forward and argued upon precedent, as well as all its collateral relations. I should be pleased to see the question fairly committed, were it for no other reason, but to hear the sleek, smooth contractors from the other House, come to that bar and declare, that they, and they only, could frame a money bill ; and they, and they only, could dispose of the property of the peers of Great Britain. Perhaps some arguments more plausible than those I heard this day from the woolsack, to show that the Commons have an uncontrollable, unqualified right, to bind your lordships' property, may be urged by them. At present I beg leave to differ from the noble and learned lord; for until the claim after a solemn discussion of the House, is openly and directly relinquished, I shall continue to be of opinion, that your lordships have a right to alter, amend, or reject a money bill."
The Duke of Richmond also, in his letter to the volunteers of Ireland, speaks of several of the powers exercised by the House of Commons in the light of usurpations: and his Grace is of opinion, that, when the people are restored to what he conceives to be their rights, in electing the House of Commons, the other branches of the legislature ought to be restored to theirs. Vide Remembrancer, vol. xvi.
of parliament, and to those solid maxims of government which have prevailed since the accession of his Majesty's illustrious family, as furnishing the only safe principles on which the crown and parliament can proceed.
We think it the more necessary to be cautious on this head, as, in the last parliament, the present ministers had thought proper to countenance, if not to suggest, an attack upon the most clear and undoubted rights and privileges of this House.
Fearing from these extraordinary admonitions, and from the new doctrines, which seem to have dictated several unusual expressions, that his Majesty has been abused by false representations of the late proceedings in parliament, we think it our duty respectfully to inform his Majesty, that no attempt whatever has been made against his lawful prerogatives, or against the rights and privileges of the peers, by the late House of Commons, in any of their addresses, votes, or resolutions: neither do we know of any proceeding by bill, in which it was proposed to abridge the extent of his royal prerogative; but, if such provision had existed in any bill, we protest, and we declare, against all speeches, acts, or addresses, from any persons whatsoever, which have a tendency to consider such bills, or the persons concerned in them, as just objects of any kind of censure and punishment from the throne. Necessary reformations may hereafter require, as they have frequently done in former times, limitations and
? By an act of parliament, the directors of the East-India Company are restrained from acceptance of bills drawn from India, beyond a certain amount, without the consent of the commissioners of the treasury. The late House of Commons, finding bills, to an immense amount, drawn upon that body by their servants abroad, and knowing their circumstances to be exceedingly doubtful, came to a resolution providently cautioning the lords of the treasury against the acceptance of these bills, until the House should otherwise direct. The court lords then took occasion to declare against the resolution as illegal, by the Commons undertaking to direct in the execution of a trust created by act of parliament. The House, justly alarmed at this resolution, which went to the destruction of the whole of its superintending capacity, and particularly in matters relative to its own province of money, directed a committee to search the journals, and they found a regular series of precedents, commencing from the remotest of those records, and carried on to that day, by which it appeared that the House interfered, by an authoritative advice and admonition, upon every act of executive government without exception; and in many much stronger cases than that which the lords thought proper to quarrel with.
abridgments, and in some cases an entire extinction of some branch of prerogative. If bills should be improper in the form in which they appear in the House where they originate, they are liable, by the wisdom of this constitution, to be corrected, and even to be totally set aside, elsewhere. This is the known, the legal, and the safe remedy: but whatever, by the manifestation of the royal displeasure, tends to intimidate individual members from proposing, or this House from receiving, debating, and passing bills, tends to prevent even the beginning of every reformation in the state, and utterly destroys the deliberative capacity of parliament.We therefore claim, demand, and insist upon it, as our undoubted right, that no persons shall be deemed proper objects of animadversion by the crown, in any mode whatever, for the votes which they give, or the propositions which they make, in parliament.
We humbly conceive, that besides its share of the legislative power, and its right of impeachment, that, by the law and usage of parliament, this House has other powers and capacities, which it is bound to maintain. This House is assured, that our humble advice on the exercise of prerogative will be heard with the same attention with which it has ever been regarded; and that it will be followed by the same effects which it has ever produced, during the happy and glorious reigns of his Majesty's royal progenitors; not doubting but that, in all those points, we shall be considered as a council of wisdom and weight to advise, and not merely as an accuser of competence to criminate. This House claims both capacities ; and we trust that we shall be left to our free discretion which of them we shall employ as best calculated for his Majesty's and the national service. When. ever we shall see it expedient to offer our advice concerning his Majesty's servants, who are those of the public, we confidently hope, that the personal favour of any minister, or any set of ministers, will not be more dear to his Majesty, than the credit and character of the House of Commons. It is an experiment full of peril to put the representative
1“ I observe at the same time, that there is no charge or complaint sug. gested against my present ministers.”—The king's answer, 25th February, 1784, to the address of the House of Commons. Vide Resolutions of the House of Commons, printed for Debrett, p. 31.
wisdom and justice of his Majesty's people in the wrong; it is a crooked and desperate design, leading to mischief, the extent of which no human wisdom can foresee, to attempt to form a prerogative party in the nation, to be resorted to as occasion shall require, in derogation from the authority of the Commons of Great Britain in parliament assembled : it is a contrivance full of danger, for ministers to set up the representative and constituent bodies of the Commons of this kingdom as two separate and distinct powers, formed to counterpoise each other, leaving the preference in the hands of secret advisers of the crown. In such a situation of things, these advisers, taking advantage of the differences which may accidentally arise, or may purposely be fomented between them, will have it in their choice to resort to the one or the other, as may best suit the purposes of their sinister ambition. By exciting an emulation and contest between the representative and the constituent bodies, as parties contending for credit and influence at the throne, sacrifices will be made by both; and the whole can end in nothing else than the destruction of the dearest rights and liberties of the nation. If there must be another mode of conveying the collective sense of the people to the throne, than that by the House of Commons, it ought to be fixed and defined, and its authority ought to be settled: it ought not to exist in so precarious and dependent a state as that ministers should have it in their power, at their own mere pleasure, to acknowledge it with respect, or to reject it with scorn.
It is the undoubted prerogative of the crown to dissolve parliament; but we beg leave to lay before his Majesty, that it is, of all the trusts vested in his Majesty, the most critical and delicate, and that in which this House has the most reason to require, not only the good faith, but the favour of the crown. His Commons are not always upon a par with his ministers in an application to popular judgment: it is not in the power of the members of this House to go to their election at the moment the most favourable for them. It is in the power of the crown to choose a time for their dissolution whilst great and arduous matters of state and legislation are depending, which may be easily misunderstood, and which cannot be fully explained before that misunder