THE QUEEN AND THE GOVERNMENT.
SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE was not able to deny on Monday night that the statement of Mr. Archibald Forbes, in the Times, as to the long and expensive telegram, worth something like £110, sent by Lord Lytton direct to her Majesty, may be true. His answer simply amounted to an assertion that the Queen's communications with her servants are private and not official communications, and that the Government know no more about them than they do about any of the private correspondence of her Majesty. It is clear, however, that an answer such as this makes the thorough discussion of the subject as to the relations of the Crown to the Government on matters of high policy, one of the most im- portant that can be brought before Parliament ; and we trust Mr. Dillwyn may be fortunate enough to secure an early occasion for his very timely and necessary motion,—" That the direct interference of the Sovereign in the foreign policy of the country is not in accordance with constitutional usage, as now understood and settled : and is, moreover, calculated to impair the privileges of this House, by unduly augmenting the powers of the Government, and enabling them, under cover of such personal interposition, to withdraw from the cognisance and control of this House important matters relating to policy and expenditure, properly within the scope of its powers and privileges." We ourselves have never been amongst either the alarmists on the subject of the growth of the Prerogative, or even those who hold that• the Sovereign should be re- duced to a mere figure-head, an ornamental centre-piece to the British Constitution, and nothing more. In answer to the able argument of Mr. Dunckley—" Verax "—we have maintained that whatever the tendency of the well-known views of Lord Beaconsfield on the Prerogative of the Crown may have been, this reign has not, on the whole, seen any revival, but rather, taking it all in all, a very decided and very satisfactory decline, in the personal power of the Sovereign over the policy of the nation. At the same time, it is not to be denied that during the last few years there has been a very decided and very unsatisfactory change in this respect. And it is hardly possible, whether we consider the great popularity of the Monarchy under the existing Sovereign, or the merits which have produced that popularity, to insist too much on the urgent duty of arresting this tendency, before there can be any Sanger of a rush of angry popular feeling. No moment can be more timely than the present,—when the Queen, rich in the sympathy and affection of her subjects, has, under the influence of an unwise Minister, made an error or two of the kind which a less popular Sovereign might be tempted to repeat with very different results,—to enter an earnest protest
against an attempt to revive what we may fairly now call unconstitutional modes of government which are full of evil auguries for the Throne, and therefore of prejudice to the unity and strength of the nation.
The strictly Constitutional principle of the relation of the Monarch to her Ministers, as determined by the wise pre- cedents of the first part of the present reign,-appears to be this,—that so far as the Sovereign, by argument or repre- sentation, can really alter the deliberate convictions of her Ministry as to the best policy to be pursued, she is in her full right in so doing, and may, indeed, well be doing what is in every way of the greatest possible benefit to the nation, but that what we want to be governed by is the deliberate resolve of the responsible Ministry, as affected by the Sovereign's representations, and not the resolve of the Monarch, as affected by the representations of her Constitu- tional advisers. Now, as thus stated, the difference between these two things may seem to be almost evanescent, but it is really, as every practical man will see at once, enormous. It is the difference between leaving the initiative to the Ministry, and nothing but the check of argument and representation to the Crown, and leaving the initiative to the Crown, and nothing but the check of argument and representation to the Ministry. We believe that it was the tendency of the late Baron Stockmar's lessons, and of the late Prince Consort's often very wise, but unfortunately far too elaborate and voluminous memoranda on the questions of the day, to do all that was possible to reduce the principle governing the relations between the Crown and the responsible Government of the day, on questions of external policy at least, to the latter formula,—while all the precedents of Lord Melbourne's teaching and of the highest authorities on Constitutional matters, have always tended to reduce it to the former. Let us try the two, in reference to the illustration suggested by recent events. Is it not perfectly obvious that, the Govern- ment of the United Kingdom being what it is, if her Majesty is to be supplied with a large store of first-hand considera- tions addressed privately to her,—and not accessible even to her Constitutional advisers,—not merely by letter, but by elaborate telegram, on matters so difficult to master, and so changing in their aspect from day to day, as the foreign relations of India to the countries on the North-West Frontier, the overworked, hurried, and anxious Ministers will not come to the discussion of their policy with her Majesty under conditions at all likely to give their own views and wishes fair-play ? Suppose the case of a great commercial house, in which the senior partner received very long and elaborate communica- tions as to the condition of things in the most critical department of the house's business at the earliest mo- ment, which communications were not sent to his partners, and not communicated to them,—is it not perfectly obvious that the result would be that in the discussion of the practical course to be taken, he would soon become far more than a match for them, even though his judgment were not so sound, and not so thoroughly penetrated by the right principles of commercial policy as theirs? It stands to reason and common-sense that if the initiative is really to remain with the Ministers, and there is only to be left to the Sovereign the moral check of great experience, a weighty personal judgment, and high position, the Ministers should have all the elements of the question they have to determine before them in all their bearings, in ample time to come to a considerate and decided conclusion, before submitting their views to her Majesty ; and that any proceeding whatever which tends to render this course difficult or impossible, must tend to take the initiative from the Ministers of the Crown, and to transfer it to the Crown. If new facts, new lights, new authorities, are to be sprung upon the Ministers of the Crown by the Sovereign, before they have had time to con- sider and discuss them, and perhaps at the very instant when a final resolve of the highest moment is to be taken, of course due weight will never be given to those popular principles with which the Government, who are virtually chosen by the repre-
sentatives of the people, ought to be, and often at least are, imbued. What we want is fair-play for the great interests of the nation. But those interests can never be properly guarded by a Government who have not the opportunity of gravely weighing them in council, in relation to all the alleged dangers and perils which are said to threaten our Empire, before discussing them with the Sovereign. If the Queen comes into Council with her Ministers,. armed with long and elaborate information with which- they have not, or may have not, been furnished, she must obtain much more than her proper regulative and constitutional influence in shaping the policy of an hour of danger.
So far as we see, nothing is more probable than that the origin and cause of the strangely needless and strangely perverse war which we are still waging with Afghanistan, may have been greatly influenced by direct representations from Lord Lytton to the Queen which anticipated the in- formation at the disposal of the Government, and greatly in- fluenced the resolves taken in moments of emergency. Of course, it is impossible to prove this,—of course it may not be the fact. But it is quite certain that if the Empress of India has been supplied directly with very full and elaborate arguments by the Viceroy for the policy he has wished to pursue, the effect of that proceeding must have been to reduce very much the moral influence of the responsible Ministers in any discussion with the Queen, and especially to diminish the weight attaching to general principles, as compared with the weight attaching to what look like menacing events. It is not till the real evidence for, and weight of, the alleged insults, for instance, of foreign Powers, have been calmly discussed by men who recall what war means, to what it will lead, what it must cost, and how little we can gain by it, that such assumed insults begin to be seen in their due significance or insignificance. If evidence of such insults had been, as they well may have been, supplied in elaborate communications to the Crown, com- munications which the Ministers had had no means of properly weighing and testing, of course it would have had far more than its due effect on the result. In a case of this kind, we speak, and must speak, to a great extent, hypo- thetically. We do not know what the value of Lord Lytton's £110 telegram may have been, or whether it really armed the Sovereign with a kind of information likely to influence any great practical decision. But this is plain,—that if the full responsibility of the Ministry is to be maintained, all such in- formation should go to them first, and be by them carefully discussed, before they are compelled to offer their advice on it to the Crown. Any other course will lead, and must lead, to an undue and very dangerous increase of the prerogative of the Crown.
And we must remember that the time is a critical one. When Mr. Disraeli made the Queen into the Empress of India, he did so with a flourish of trumpets not at all unlikely to persuade the Monarch that there ought to be a new departure in rela- tion to her own personal influence over the policy of her Indian Government. The House of Commons will not soon forget the night on which Mr. Disraeli assured them that the question of the title to be assumed by her Majesty was a matter of prerogative, and that the House should not even know what it was to be till it had given leave for the introduc- tion of the Bill empowering her to assume that new title. No doubt he was foiled. The House would not discuss a Bill for conferring on the Queen a title of which it did not know the style. But the mere attempt showed what kind of ideas the Minister was attempting to instil into the mind of the Sovereign, and the sort of effect they were calculated to produce. And now, unless the House of Commons repeat the warning then given to the Queen, we shall be in danger of seeing the poison at work. Hence we hold that while the Queen is as generally and as justly beloved as she is, while these lessons in Preroga- tive are still new and insufficiently learned, we ought once more to utter a warning which may avert what, if it were to go on, might easily result in a much more dangerous struggle, under a much less popular Prince.