Page images


Parliamentary majorities, Parliaments have felt it less necessary to interfere by way of advice. Queen Elizabeth heard sometimes with an anger which she did not conceal, strances which would not be addressed to Queen Victoria; and even William III. was obliged to listen to lectures from his Parliament disapproving of the foreign policy which he showed a disposition to adopt.

The Imperial Parliament ought plainly to be the great Council of the Empire, with which should rest the constitutional right of advising the Sovereign on all questions of peace and war, and of the foreign relations of the country. It ought also to possess, in relation to these matters, the constitutional checks which in practice Parliament possesses over the Crown. There should be an Imperial Ministry responsible to the Imperial Parliament, and that Parliament should have the power of controlling the expenditure and supplies for Imperial purposes.

The Imperial Crown would still require its great officers of state; Secretaries for War, for India, for the Colonies, and for Foreign Affairs, would all belong to the Imperial administration; to them should be added a Chancellor to hold the great seal of the United Kingdom, and a Home Secretary to manage the communications between the central authority and the national adıninistrations. A Treasurer and Chancellor of the Exchequer would still be needed to control the Imperial finances. Of these great officers a Cabinet might be formed to advise the Sovereign in all Imperial affairs. For their acts in that capacity these ministers should be responsible to the Imperial Parliament alone. The Federal Constitution should in like manner recognize an Imperial Privy Council by whose advice the Sovereign should act in all Imperial affairs.

It follows, of necessity, from the very nature of a Federal Union. that we must leave to the Imperial Parliament the determination and the provision of the means requisite for Imperial defence. It would be for that Parliament to vote the men for the Imperial army and navy—at least so far as they were requisite for the defence of the Empire at large. There could be nothing to prevent the National Parliament of either country from providing, on the requisition of the Ministers of the Crown, a separate force, either naval or military, out of its own resources. But to the Imperial Parliament we must confide the power which it has now of providing the naval and military armaments which, either in peace or war, it might consider necessary for the defence of the Empire. The power of voting the armaments would place in the hands of the Imperial Parliament the check upon the prerogative of the Sovereign in making peace or war. This power it would be which would still make the representations of the Imperial Parliament really binding on the Sovereign and his advisers. Over all such questions the Imperial Parliament would exercise exactly the same influence that it

does now.

The question of the Imperial armaments involves the further question-how are the armaments voted by the Imperial Parliament to be provided? This might be done in one of two ways, either by empowering the Imperial Parliament to levy a general Imperial tax for that purpose, or to oblige each part of the United Kingdom to find from its own resources its fixed quota of the army and navy required.

In many respects the latter would have great advantages. But, for the unity and power of the Empire, it would be far better to give to the Imperial Parliament the power not only of voting the armaments, but also of raising the necessary supplies. This involves the general question of taxation, upon which it is necessary to say a few words.

There is a large proportion of the Imperial expenditure to which Ireland would be bound to contribute. To the interest

on the national debt we must in any event contribute our share. Of the civil list provided for the Sovereign we are equally bound to find a part. If we are admitted to a share in the Parliamentary control of the colonies and dependencies of the Imperial Crown, we must contribute our share to the expenditure they may entail; and if we bave a voice in the foreign relations of the Empire, we can scarcely refuse to bear our part of the cost of maintaining them.

The Imperial expenditure may properly be said to consist, 1st. Of the interest on the national debt. 2nd. The civil list of the Crown. 3rd. The expenses of the army and navy.

4th. The expenses of foreign ambassadors and colonial establishments.

These are the expenses to which Ireland would be bound, under a Federal arrangement, to contribute.

The expenditure of the public revenue of Great Britain must be divided into two distinct and separate classes, to which very different considerations must be applied.

There is one portion of it which is disbursed each year by an annual grant from Parliament, to provide which the House of Commons is supposed to vote taxes each year.

But there is another portion of it which is paid by the Treasury wholly independent of Parliament, and for which funds are provided wholly independent of any vote of the House of Commons.

Simple as this matter is to those acquainted with the machinery of British national finance, it is very little understood. A very few words will make it plain.

At the commencement of every session of Parliament ministers lay before the House of Commons detailed estimates of all the expenses for which they intend to ask provision for the service of the year. These estimates are gone through in detail, and such of them as the House thinks fit to grant are


formally voted, either to the amount asked for or to any lesser amount which the House


think fit. At the end of each session an Act is passed, called the Appropriation Act, embodying all the sums which have been so voted during the session, and authorizing their payment by the Treasury, and their application to the purposes for which they have been voted. This Act of Parliament is the only real legal authority for this payment, but so completely established is the control of the House of Commons over the finances of the nation that payments are invariably made on account of each vote as soon as it has received the sanction of the House of Commons.

All this expenditure is, of course, under the absolute control of Parliament. It rests each

It rests each year in the determination of the House of Commons whether it shall be made. This includes the cost of the army and navy, most official salaries, and a considerable proportion of the ordinary expenses of carrying on public affairs.

But there is in addition to this, a very large amount of public expenditure for which no estimate is presented—which requires no vote of the House of Commons for its payment, and which is met by the Treasury without any reference to the proceedings of Parliament, or even to the question whether there is a Parliament in existence at all.

This consists of the interest of the national debt--the civil list provided at the beginning of the reign for the support of the dignity of the Crown-the salaries of the judges of the courts of law and equity—the salaries of the foreign ambassadors---come pensions to various persons—and some other expenses which it is useless to detail. diture has been removed from the control of the House of Commons. It is provided for by permanent statutes, which cannot be repealed except by an Act passing the Lords, and receiving the royal assent. These permanent Acts impose

All this expen

upon the managers of the Treasury the obligations of paying these charges as they arise—and they are all so paid, many of them under statutes passed very many years ago.

This will be perfectly understood by an illustration taken from the finance accounts of the year ending the 31st of March, 1868.

In that year the entire payments out of the revenues of the country amounted, in round numbers, to seventy-two millions. Of this sum about forty-two millions were paid by authority of votes of the House of Commons adopted in that year, and embodied in the Appropriation Act passed at the end of it.

The remaining thirty millions were paid out of the Treasury under the authority of permanent Acts of Parliament, which oblige the persons having the control of the Treasury to pay certain sums without any reference to any vote of the House of Commons at all— Acts which are, of course, the law of the land, and which, as I have said, cannot be altered except by a statute passed by the two Houses of Parliament, and assented to by the Queen.

But not only are these payments made without any intervention or control of Parliament, but funds are found to provide for them in a manner equally exempt from any interference or control. A very large proportion of the taxation of the country is levied under permanent statutes, and goes on without any reference to Parliament at all. Formerly the House of Commons had a great jealousy of granting permanent taxes, and they were strictly limited to the amount which was necessary to meet the permanent charges. But this jealousy, like many other of the sensitive feelings by which popular liberty used to be protected has disappeared. Taxes to a large amount, which used to be annually voted, have been granted either in perpetuity or for long terms of years. Not many years ago the House of Commons gave up,

« PreviousContinue »