Page images
PDF
EPUB

merly lords-justices and guardians were appointed for the administration of the government during the absence of the Sovereign from the realm ; but owing to royal visits abroad being of so infrequent occurrence, and the facilities afforded by railways, this custom has fallen into desuetude. At least, when her Majesty, in 1843, visited the King of the French, and in 1845 visited Germany, such officers were not appointed.

From one duty which the sovereigns of England had in former times to perform the Queen is exempt. Her Majesty never attends at meetings of the Cabinet, owing to the necessity of the deliberations of the Council being private and confidential. The absence of the Sovereign on these occasions arose from the accidental circumstance of the inability of George I. to express himself in the English language. When formerly the monarch of these realms took an immediate part in the direction of public affairs, no Cabinet Council could be held without his presence; but under the existing system of government through responsible min. isters, the absence of the Sovereign during such meetings is in entire conformity with our theory of constitutional government. ... Having endeavoured to show the power of her

SHE ONLY TO SUMMON PARLIAMENT.

27

Majesty over her ministers, let us briefly regard her relations with the Parliament. In the first place, her Majesty is a constituent part of Parliament, as I have already told you—Parliament being composed of the King or Queen, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons. The legal existence of Parliament results altogether from the exercise of the royal prerogative. Her Majesty only has the power of summoning it; it must commence its deliberations at the time appointed by the Queen, and cannot continue them longer than she may allow. There have been only two instances in which the Lords and Commons have met of their own authority-namely, previous to the restoration of Charles II., and at the Revolution in 1688.

There is one contingency upon which the Parliament may meet without summons under the authority of an Act of Parliament. It was provided in the reign of Queen Anne that “in case there should be no Parliament in being at the time of the demise of the Crown, then the last preceding Parliament should immediately convene and sit at Westminster, as if the said Parliament had never been dissolved.” By a statute in the reign of George III., a Parliament so revived would only continue in existence for six months, if not sooner dissolved.

Before Parliament can enter upon its duties it must be opened by the personal presence of the Queen, or by her delegated authority. At the beginning of every new Parliament, and of every session after a prorogation, the cause of summons must be declared to both Houses either by her Majesty or by commissioners appointed to represent her, in a speech from the Throne. Till this has been done, neither House can enter upon any business. Since the introduction of the Ministers of the Crown into Parliament, much of the direct authority of the sovereigns of England has been curtailed. The Sovereign is no longer called upon to perform ungracious acts towards his Parliament, or held personally accountable for a policy distasteful to that body. There is now no necessity for invoking the royal veto for the rejection of bills disapproved of by the Crown, because the constitutional influence of the Ministry generally suffices to control their fate. In fact, the royal veto upon bills in Parliament has not been exercised for upwards of 150 years; but, as I have just said, circumstances might arise at any time that would justify the Crown in resorting to such a course.

RELATIONS OF PARLIAMENT WITH THE CROWN. 29

According to Earl Russell, it is the privilege, and even the duty, of the two Houses of Parliament to advise the Queen upon whatever subject it is her duty to act—a statement fully borne out by Burke, who says it is the privilege of Parliament to interfere by authoritative advice and admonition upon every act of executive government without exception. You must remember here, though, that Parliament is designed for counsel, not for rule—for control, and not for administration. Mr Canning defined the House of Commons to be a council of control as well as a council of advice; and declared that in cases of adequate importance, especially where the prerogative was concerned, it should endeavour by the timely interposition of advice to prevent the necessity of control. Any direct interference by Parliament in the details of government is inconsistent with her Majesty's authority, and a departure from the fundamental principles of the British Constitution. The supreme executive authority belongs to the Crown, nor do the measures adopted by its ministers in the exercise of this authority require the previous sanction of Parliament. Parliament, when complaining of a grievance, or expressing its sense upon some objectionable system of administration, is perfectly competent to

approach the Crown by address with advice upon the subject. Thus, in 1836, the House of Commons begged his Majesty to discourage Orange Lodges and secret societies generally, which led to the formal dissolution of the Orange Society of the United Kingdom. Again, in 1856, an address to the Queen for the issue of a commission to determine the site of the New National Gallery was carried against the Ministry, and a commission granted by the Crown. Various other precedents also confirm this point. However, as long as any existing Government retains the confidence of Parliament, it is unwise as a general principle to interfere with it in matters of administration. Should the Crown itself attempt to encroach upon the functions of Parliament, it is the duty of that august body to interpose, and to call to account the Ministry which is responsible for any excess of executive authority. Her Majesty can neither alter, add to, nor dispense with any existing law of the realm ; but in times of emergency the Crown, acting under the advice of responsible ministers, may properly anticipate the future action of Parliament by a temporary suspension of certain classes of statutes. Such power is exercised by Orders in Council or Royal Proclamations.

« PreviousContinue »