TOPICS OF THE DAY.
LORD JOHN'S NEW POSITION.
Tun new arrangement of the Ministry, by which Lord John Rus- sell relinquishes the seals of the Foreign Office to the Earl of Cla- rendon, but retains his seat in the Cabinet without office and his leadership of the Commons, has given rise to various remarks, cri- ticizing the arrangement. It does not appear to us, however, that the writers grasp the real question involved. The Standard, for example, denounces an innovation which
places a Commoner in the Cabinet without office, because he is thus without official responsibility ; an objection which the writer does not seem to entertain with regard to Peers, because they are "the hereditary advisers of the Sovereign, entitled at all times to access to the Royal presence in order to tender their advice " ; which makes them virtually Cabinet Ministers, whether they are or are not charged with any official duty. Our contemporary reads his constitutional history in this matter without his usual clearness. The Peers are the hereditary advisers of the Sovereign, for the reason that Peers in old times armed with sword, wealth,' and feudal power, were able to intrude into the presence of the Sovereign and to force their advice upon him whether he would or not. They are hereditary Privy Councillors but not hereditary members of that Cabinet Council which the Councillors, selects for himself. Neither are they more responsible than Commoners : rather the reverse, since they owe account neither to constituency nor to Sovereign. Theoretically they are less fitted than a Com- moner to undertake a post which ought not to be granted saveto a responsible holder.
Another journalist is professedly chagrined at the probability that Lord John Russell may find himself a Cabinet Minister with- out any patronage at his disposal to purchase the influence due to so distinguished a position : and the writer indulges a hope, there- fore, that Lord John Russell will be duly consulted by Lord Aber- deen in the disposal of Ministerial patronage; • an example offering itself in the vacant Bishopric of Lincoln. In other words, the writer suggests, that patronage, like the disposal of a bishopric, is a very fair subject for bickering amongst statesmen who are com- peting for the disposal of patronage; and a hope is insidiously hinted, that Lord Aberdeen and Lord John Russell preserve a better understanding between each other than to quarrel about the privileges of office. We have no expectation that these eminent statesmen will give way to bickering ; and therefore the anxiety of our contemporary on the score of a good understanding between the two leaders of the Ministers is likely to be more amusing than mischievous.
There is no question, however, that the post assigned to Lord John Russell is both an anomaly and an innovation. It is true that statesmen have before now sat in the Cabinet without office ; and it is true that the Peer is not more responsible than the Com- moner. Still, the assignment of the post to a Commoner is a fur- ther innovation, and a new instance which tends to confirm an exceptional resort as an established practice. Mr. Cayley's pro- posal to give a salary to "the Leader" of the House of Commons, as such, shows how irregular and provisional the arrangement is felt to be. There is no doubt that the old species of Ministerial responsibility which shields the Crown from responsibility—the liability to be impeached, with capital punishment, which would make a Strafford serve in lieu of a Charles the First—ii now obsolete, and we are not likely to see any Minister's head rolling in the saw-dust. It becomes more necessary, therefore, that the mild species of responsibility which exists should not be rashly abandoned : that responsibility consists in the vote of the Com- mons and in the general bearing of public opinion. It is a com- pound of the Minister's power to get supplies from the Commons and of his own power to endure public reprobation. As long as he can get cash, mid does not mind being sent to Coventry by press or public, responsibility does not lie heavy upon him. Nc)w, prac- tically, a Minister is not so likely to be called to book when he is unattached as when he is in office ; the details of which give rise to those definite motions that alone command the attention of the Commons. In office, a Minister must account in detail for his publics conduct; unattached, there are comparatively few points upon which he can be called to account.
there may be a practical inconvenience in such an immunity, aggravated by another possible consequence. If the practice of summoning to the Cabinet Council Ministers who are not in office be established, it would be no great stretch of the innovation to summon to the Council men who have not been in office at all. If it BO pleased the Crown, it would be possible to confer a seat in the Cabinet upon some person who had undergone no training in any department ; who was thus far a dilettante Minister, but whose commanding influence with the Throne or with the Parliament might place the Legislature, the People, and the Crown' in very false relations. Without any departure from the record of the new precedent, it might be possible to call to the Cabinet a man, young, audacious, and favoured by the Throne, especially if that throne were filled by a woman.
The most questionable part of the new arrangement lies in the fact that there is an innovation without any determinate conditions or limitation of its applicability. When changes, not greater than this, are introduced into our constitution, it is the usual custom to invite the concurrence of the Legislature in a bill, which so affixes limits to the new plan that it cannot be subsequently extended be- yond the original purport. What definite record will exist in the present instance P—None. It is therefore an innovation indeter- minate ; and as such, it may well include the seeds of further in- novations not yet disclosed to us.
We are far from saying that improvements may not be made in the relations of Ministers to the entire Cabinet, to the Crown, or to Parliament. We admit the convenience which may arise from placing a man of commanding powers in an advantageous position at the head of a Ministry, without departmental duties. But there are other reforms still more familiar to the public anticipa. tion, if the Ministerial system were to be revised. There is, for example, the question of giving to Ministers seats ex officio in the House of Commons. There is also the question as to the appoint- ment of a Minister of Education ; another as to the appointment of a Minister of Justice, who should be able to supervise the gene- ral administration of the law, and to mediate between the legal profession and the public at large, without embarrassment by judi- cial or official duties and bonds. But changes of this kind, how- ever recognized by the public sanction ought not to be effected without some formal instrument, which shall limit the precedent, and prevent its extension to mutations not contemplated by the suggestion of the original reform : such formal procedure would be a much more safe as well as convenient mode of effecting an in- novation.