30 OCTOBER 1858, Page 14


IT used to be a reproach of the Whigs that they plaoed every- thing in commission. They had commissions to manage the Poor law,—commissions to manage our health,—to perform under the several departments of state the duties which have generally been regarded as belonging to the Executive; but the commission-pro- ducing tendency does not seem limited to the Whigs, for no Government has been more prolific in that species of reorganism than Lord Derby's Cabinet. .Already, besides the standing com- missions, we have commissions on a great variety of subjects, such as the new education commission, the newly extended Weedon commission which has gone to Woolwich, the manning of the navy commission, the organization of the Bengal army commis- sion. A commission appears in fact to be the want of the day, and her Majesty's present Ministers figure among the most diligent and intelligent manufacturers for the supply of the want. The course they have taken is indeed consistent with their own posi- tion; but perhaps it is also consistent with the actual requirement of the country, and with the most desirable progress at the next stage. The inquiry is not directed alone into the specific subjects handed over to the several commissions ; there are some other things also to be asked.

A Tory Government has acceded to power under circumstances which render Tory principles impossible ; the first duty, there- fore of such a Government is to carry on a business which is en- tirely novel to its members—that is the conduct of national affairs in accordance with the state of information and of conviction amongst the great body of the people. How would any intelli- gent body of men proceed under such circumstances ? Of course the first step they would take would be to learn their business. Now on each branch of public work the blue-book compiled by a special commission would constitute the very best primer or acci- dence in Liberal administration for those Ministers who, while etill pupil apprentices, are placed in command of the ship.

There is one grand circumstance of the day which not only renders this expedient of Ministers suitable for themselves, but also excessively convenient for the country. We have arrived at the end of many controversies which had before engaged the ge- neral body of the people, bisected as it used to be on each subject so as to leave two rather unequal halves arrayed against each other, the lines of bisection crossing each other in all directions. Now the country is generally united on these old questions ; and the lesser half is learning how to excel the larger in its zeal on the subject of reform. For instance, Lord Hardwicke and other intelligent Tory gentlemen have been calling on the farmers to testify that nobody would think of questioning the admitted doc- trines of free trade. If there are still technical difficulties in joint action on some subjects of religious or educational discus- sion, it is agreed that in the general spirit of the national faith, and in the general objects of national instruction, we are all at one. With a country that has thus fallen into a lull of political discussion it is rather difficult to know what are the topics which most stir the heart and head of the people ; and one method of asking the country what it is thinking about is to interrogate it by means of these special commissions. Forced into office by a fortuitous combination of circumstances, Lord Derby and his colleagues announce that they will set about the work with plea- sure, if they are only told what we want; and having made some way with their arrangements,—very creditably too—they turn round and ask, "Any other little article ? " being naturally de- sirous of retaining so important a customer as the country. In accordance with the state of the country, we have a Government of Interrogation ; and we must not be surprised if these tempo- rary portions of the executive organism commissions of inquiry, multiply so rapidly : they are but adapting the Executive to the particular necessities of the day. There is a third and still more important function which such investigations promote. When a great country is divided with no small part of conscience and intellect on both sides, we may assume that reason is not monopolized by one party ; that each party therefore must nurse amongst its treasures no small amount of fallacy, assumption and dogma. It is not in human nature that the Liberal party should be able to say that it is quite exempt from these municipal failings. The subject of education furnishes an apt illustration. However Liberal one set of think- ers may be as compared with another, it may assume as essential truths certain presumptions which a more free discussion would show to be non-essential. The members of one faith or of one sect assume that the members of any other are bent on circum- venting the belief and conscience of pupils probably in the total absence of any such motives ; just as in Ireland one set of clergy will scarcely believe that Protestants can teach geography without having in view the inculcation of some controversial re- futations, while the Protestants consider that any philanthropic gentleman who exhorts a poor man to give his children the benefit of education must be bent on weaning away the subjects of the Pope. A pure and single-minded desire to propagate in- formation on specific subjects, training in a branch of industry, and a knowledge of arithmetic and other economic resources for the purposes of the shop and the household, appears to be incon- ceivable by a certain class of minds ; yet persons who are thus prejudiced may themselves be pure in their motives, and not be absorbed in any of that spiritual double dealing which they ascribe to others; for it is not always true that we are guilty of the bad motives which we impute. The effect of thus constantly discussing subjects from different sides is that an immense amount of assumptions grow to be mingled up with the fads . and after we have been debating the question of educa° ti for some centuries, but more especially for the last hait- century, or even the last ten years,. it has become time to ask, whether all the assertions .w.hich have been taken for granted as facts really have a.ny.validityr or even existence? The inquiry under the new Commission, which the Assistant Coau,• sioners are instructed to carry out, would bring many of these dogmatic assumptions to the test. We shall learn, for example whether it is true that parents of one denomination are so posi..' tively opposed to letting their children attend schools belonging to another ; and, after the Commission shall have made its re_ port, we shall learn, for the first time, what it is the great bulk of the people think upon this much disputed subject, instead of being told over and over again what other , ple think for them.

• Now this is really a process in strict aceor ce with the actual . state of the country. We find from the event that we not only have but that we needed in office a Ministry of Interrogation,

Further investigations are urged upon the Government. The shipowners have been inviting M. r.. Baxter to take up their case, Not to go for a renewal of restrictive laws,—even the shipowners are not so far behind the farmers as that,—but to claim recipro- city from foreign countries, and, at all events, to call for the re- moval of certain restrictions and liabilities which unduly press upon the shipowner. Now, how stand the facts? The ship- owners represent themselves as being in a worse condition than those of other countries ; yet Mr. Baxter tells us that the Ameri- can shipowners are still worse off. Something.i

must be ascribed to the spirit of speculation which prevailed n all branches of the business and which has multiplied screw steamers far beyond the demand. Screw steamers are a drug—in some cases, it is said, a drug that has not been very well made up. Parliament is asked to interfere ; but before interference, inquiry is necessary, and there is to be a great concourse of shipowners in London to pray for inquiry.

Perhaps the inquiry might be extended further. We not long since alluded to a Standing Committee of the Commons on cer- tain subjects of administration ; it has now become a question of the day how much of our public business ought or ought not to be subjected to further inquiry. Are Royral Commissions., or Select Committees, or Parliamentary Commissions, the better instrument for examination ? To carry out in a Parliamentary sense the spirit of our actual administration, some thoroughgoing Member should call for a Select Committee to inquire into the proper limits and extension of inquiries into things in general. Parlia- ment would then be placing itself in the interrogatory mood, harmonious with the Executive. Here is a mission for Mr. Bright.