« PreviousContinue »
appellate authority which, previous to the Reformation, was exercised over members of the Established Church by the Pope, is now vested in the Crown of England, and every ecclesiastical court in England must be held in the name of her Majesty.
By the laws of our land, the Queen is also regarded as the arbiter of domestic commerce; but this branch of the royal prerogative is now mainly exercised by the Board of Trade, which is specially charged to superintend all Government measures brought before Parliament relating to trade and commerce. As regards foreign commerce, that is left to the law of merchants.
The Queen, being the representative of her people, has the sole power of sending ambassadors to foreign states, and of receiving ambassadors at home. And in her Majesty is vested alone the right of making treaties and alliances, and of declaring war and peace.
Thus, Gentlemen, you see that our gracious Majesty, whom some people wish to make out is a mere state puppet, has some power and authority notwithstanding. Perhaps you say, All very well; but how about Parliament? Cannot Parliament do everything, and make the Queen of no account? Well, let us look into the question a little. But
THEORY OF ROYAL IMPERSONALITY.
you must remember, when you talk about Parliament, that the Queen herself is a constituent part of the supreme legislative power, and that she has the prerogative of rejecting such provisions in Parliament as she judges improper.
Since the system of Parliamentary government, consequent upon the Revolution of 1688, has become fully developed, the public authority of the Crown in England is only exercised in acts of representation, or through the medium of ministers, who are responsible to Parliament for every public act of her Majesty, as well as for the general policy which they have been called upon to administer. This is termed the theory of royal impersonality, which, from not being properly understood, has given rise to various misrepresentations concerning the true place and position the Queen occupies in the government of the state. Prior to 1688 the government of England was mainly carried on by virtue of the royal prerogative—that is to say, by the king in person, with the advice of his ministers, who were responsible only to their Sovereign for the ordinary conduct of public affairs. This, as you well know, occasioned frequent contests between the Crown and Parliament, which at one time resulted in the horrors of civil war. But the
v development of the Constitution, effected by the Revolution of 1688, has resulted in the transference of the force of the State from the Crown to the House of Commons. Instead of government by prerogative, we have government by Parliament ; but in all cases the sanction of the Queen is necessary for the passing of any measure. So that the leading principles of the British constitution, as now interpreted, are the personal irresponsibility of the
sovereign, the responsibility of ministers, and the I inquisitorial power of Parliament.
Now, you often hear it said that the Ministry is the real Sovereign of this country, and that to it the whole of the executive power is assigned. This is not the case. Her Majesty retains full discretionary powers for deliberating and determining upon every recommendation which is tendered for her sanction by her ministers; and as every important act of administration must be submitted for the approval of the Crown, her Majesty is enabled to exercise a considerable control over the government of the country. It is true that the Crown seldom refuses to act upon the advice deliberately pressed upon it by its servants; but the power of the Queen to control the measures of her ministers could be exercised at any moment if the exercise became necessary, and
HER POWER TO REJECT LAWS.
was sanctioned by the approbation of the country. Should the Crown ever refuse to accept the advice of its minister, the inevitable consequence to the minister would be the tender of his resignation. But unless the views of the Crown find a response from the nation at large, and are accepted by Parliament, they cannot ultimately prevail, for no policy can be carried out by the government of England but such as meets with the sober approval of Parliament and of the people.
Lord Palmerston said, “It is a fundamental error to suppose that the power of the Crown to reject laws has ceased to exist. . . . That power survives as before, but it is exercised in a different manner. Instead of being exercised upon the laws presented for the royal assent, it is exercised by anticipation in the debates in Parliament. It is delegated to those who are the responsible advisers of the Crown; and it is therefore not possible that a law passed by the two Houses should be presented to the Crown, and should then by the Crown be refused. And why is this? Because it cannot be imagined that a law should have received the consent of both Houses of Parliament, in which the responsible ministers of the Crown are sitting, debating, acting, and voting, unless those who advise the Crown have agreed to
that law, and are therefore prepared to counsel the sovereign to assent to it.” And on this point Mr Gathorne Hardy says, “Her Majesty has no constitutional right to abdicate that part of her prerogative which entitles her to put a veto upon any measure she thinks fit. . . . Nor is this veto of the English monarch an empty form. It is not difficult to conceive the occasion when, supported by the sympathies of a loyal people, its exercise might defeat an unconstitutional ministry and a corrupt Parliament."
Again, the Queen has the unquestioned power of choosing her responsible ministers; and the continuance of the royal confidence in an existing Ministry is an essential requisite to its remaining in office. Should the Ministry exhibit internal dissensions, or differ from the Sovereign, or from the country at large ; or should their measures be ruinous to the interests of the nation, or there exist a general feeling of distrust of them throughout the country, her Majesty can dismiss them.' The Houses of Parliament have, it is true, the undeniable right to advise the Queen on this matter; but this right cannot be pressed so far as to render her Majesty accountable to Parliament for her conduct in changing her advisers. All