JOINT-STOCK SUBSIDY vice SHIPMONEY, DECEASED.
Br a vulgar and ungenerous error, Prince Albert's remark that " representative institutions are on their trial" has oftener been a subject of complaint than of serious consideration. Why was it assumed that the husband of Queen Victoria must have some arriere-pence tending towards alien and discredited institutions, because he was endeavouring to remind Englishmen that institu- tions which have existed so long are not perhaps turned to the best account ? Many of those who have met the Prince's hint with complaint and innuendo have given corroboration to the remark. Representative institutions are on their trial, and we must make them better if we are to bring them up to a level with the present state of public knowledge. As Mr. Disraeli says, it is not only a serious injury, but a dis- grace to this country that " in such an age of science and progress as the present, we should not possess the means of telegraphic communication with that important dependency," India. But Mr. Disraeli and his colleagues in office could only devise a very questionable plan of doing justice to an "age of science and progress." A measure giving to a company 41- per cent on a capital of 800,000 or 1,000,000 sterling for fifty years—that is, pledging this country to pay for, half a century 36,000/. or 46,000/.—was introduced as a private " bill, and passed without any sufficient reference to the House of Commons, " custodies " &e. And it appears by the debates of this week and of last, that this grant to the Red Sea Company is not the only sample of the kind : we have the Dover grant, the Galway grant, the Liverpool grant, and perhaps some others, pledging the country to pay- ments of nearly a million a year, always without properly con- sulting the House of Commons. Ind the evil is without remedy, at least as to the past; for "public faith" is pledged to the bar- gains, bad or good. Members are indignant with the late Administration, because it gave the fullest development to these forms of private contract at public expense; but is that Government the real culprit ? What is it accused of doing ? Only of carrying somewhat further a system which previous Governments have cultivated. Lord Derby's Cabinet, therefore, is only charged with pushing to a greater degree a fault ascribable to all Governments for some years past. Now the wrong of a bad principle does not lie in the degree of its application. If the previous Governnient is proved to have been guilty of the same fault, its representative man will hardly. plead that it was only a very little one."
But if successive Governments have thus been voting away the public money, what was the House of Commons at? If in the very. presence of the House—for so it was—the Treasury has been making its " private" arrangements with joint-stock companies, perhaps honourable Members will tell us why the 654 Cerberi over the public interests were all asleep? It is nonsense to lay the blame on Mr. Disraeli, or Sir George Cornewall Lewis, or any other Chancellor of the Exchequer, when these guardians of the Exchequer are themselves the persons to blame; for if they had not allowed " the forms of the House" to become empty and unmeaning ceremonies, the abuse would never have happened. We have lost more than Joseph Hume,—we have lost the sense of responsibility amongst Members. They get themselves elected with brilliant promises that they will pass "measures ; " and as long as they vote right," they appear to hold themselves ex- onerated from doing the ordinary duty which the humblest man that has a right to sit in that House with his hat on is bound to perform. To neglect that duty is nothing short of gross derelic- tion of principle—betrayal of a public trust. In gross cases it might be called political escroquerie' —for it is to obtain a seat on false pretences. The censure which cast upon Mr. Disraeli, or Sir John Pakington, or Sir Stafford Northeote, recoils with some hundredfold force upon the Members themselves who allowed these things to be done. Do we say that the enter- prises which have been pampered in this objectionable manner are in themselves objectionable? Every spoiled child is not by nature a bad child. On the contrary, it is a reproach to our whole system of administration, executive, parliamentary, local, or what you please, that the most desirable objects lie before us, the means for the execution being known or easily ascertained, without any real progress towards accomplishment Just now two departments of State have been engaged in a tedious correspond- ence with a elockmaker, and they cannot get all hands rit upon the Westminster clock. Mr. Wilson " admitted " that the late Ministry had exhausted every means in their power to find par- ties ready to take up the project of . a Red Sea Telegraph on the principle of a contingent guarantee, but in vain. The atmosphere of the metropolis has been a nuisance to comfort, a danger to life, because this great empire cannot arrange with some few parishes
an abatement of the nuisance. If representative institutions are on their trial, it looks very like a breakdown under trial ; and ao- cording to the moral of the late debates in Parliament, our only alternative to this helplessness in the face of " science and pro- gress," is some olumsy compromise of principle, which makes the State barter the public money away to joint-stock companies. The tangible results which we do obtain, in lien of those con- veniences and appliances which we know to be practicable, are, when we expose them, as astonishing as they are disgusting. Mr. Disraeli may have had no thought of using the public money in a corrupt way, and we acquit him of it as heartily and com- pletely as the most generous opponent could do; still, what is the gross effect resulting from the present system ? In an age of "discussion," while we are talking about "freedom" and "re- form," we are actually inventing a new principle of Parliamentary corruption. Do not let us shut our eyes to the fact, because it goes by a disgusting name. People talk of the danger of extend- ing the franchise to the working men, lest their elected repre- sentatives should propose " subversive measures ; " but really we know nothing more " subversive" to the liberty of this country, and, therefore, to the very throne, than the system which has been growing up in Parliament. One of the difficulties in avoid- ing the fulfilment of the Galway contract was the immense local interest excited for the establishment and extension of a great joint-stock company. A great joint-stock company which con- veys our letters across the Atlantic has a corresponding influence in Liverpool and London. We are promised another great joint- stock company, at another great port, for the development of a project which ought to be carried out. Our railway companies pos- sess a territorial influence which is gradually superseding that of the Barons. In fact you might parcel out the House of Commons into those sections which belong to several joint-stock interests. And at last we discover the Treasury systematically making sub- sidies of public money to joint-stock magnates and joint-stock embryoes, without the faintest consultation of Parliament. In- deed with the avoidance of a consultation, and with the profession that the arrangement is a " private " one, to be accomplished in a private bill. And this is the way we manage things in an age of " science and progress"—an age of " discussion and reform! " Mr. Gladstone 's Committee ought to give us something more than a report on past abuses and suggestions on future checks. How are we to waken the House of Commons with its 6M Mem- bers ? Since the race of Joseph Hume appears to be gone, how shall we supply the honourable Laputans with flappers, in order that " attention may be drawn," &c. ? In " this age of science and progress," when scientific men can so distinctly tell us the .
means by which we can economize the resources of the country., accomphsh its ends, extend national power, and bring increased
blessings to every denizen, how is it that we cannot put together our wealth, our information, and our practical faculties ? If we really have all these boasted resources, it is evident that the fault must lie in the agency. Perhaps the Select Committee would tell us where it is that the shortcoming lies ? For our own part, we do not prejudge the question ; on the contrary, we would rather tear it open,—wide open,—sweeping away every prejudice and commonplace that has hitherto encum- bered the inquiry. It has recently been assumed, that if there is a great enterprise to be accomplished, it can be better done by private means, because it is the love of profit alone which will prompt men to the exertion, it is the instinct of parsimony alone which will make them saving in the means. The country which knows that it is possible to attain great advantages, covets the fulfilment of its wishes without too much cost; and it leaves the risk to private persons, because it thinks so meanly of its public agents, its governors, councillors, and representatives, that it will rather trust to the motives of traders than to those of its duces. When great communities thus suspect better motives, and trust to bad motives, they are mostly repaid for their over-cunning by
a reversal of their reckonings. In our moral Atheism, in our scepticism of any sufficient good motives amongst us, we actually,
lend our administrative bungling and our Parliamentary somno- lence to cultivate the vast joint-stock jobbing interest which threatens to swamp the privileges of Parliament and the liberties of the citizen.
Perhaps after all, these semi-administrative, semi-industrial works had better be left altogether to the Government? Or it may be that an enterprise of the kind could be best handed over, freely and absolutely, to some new kind of body, holding a final authority ad hoc, but answerable only for general results towards the nation,—somewhat after the fashion of those railway com- panies amongst whom Lord Dalhousie would have partitioned the United Kingdom. But one thing is certain : we might have these undertakings prosecuted by the State on its own responsibility to Parliament both for proper management and for proper economy; or we might have perfect free trade in these enterprises, without any interference of State whether by subsidy or control ; or we might have the special bodies to which we have alluded acting as trustees for the empire, their conditions of existence and powers intermediate between the private company and the public depart- ment: but certainly we had better adopt one or other of these alternatives than persist in fingering public money on behalf of private interests, with a show of Parliamentary supervision and control sufficient only to deceive.