DUTY OF THE MINISTERS IN PARLIAMENT.
THE Courier admits that its own notions of the duty of Ministers are exceedingly vague : they seem to be exceedingly convenient for Ministers also. There is a " conflict," we are told, " between their duty as the preservers of the national institutions, and the necessity to reform these institutions ;" and therefore the Courier deems it no easy matter, " to form clear and definite ideas of what is the duty of Ministers in all cases." So that when the Ministers resist encroachment upon old abuses, it is a justification of their conduct to say, " It is our duty to preserve the national institutions ;" and when they move onwards in the path of innova- tion, they may plead as an excuse, the " necessity to reform these institutions." If the Nation will only accept of this doctrine as gospel, Ministers will never be in want of an apology, let their conduct be what it may.
The Courier maintains that we are wrong in " insisting upon. Ministers acting only with reference to the peculiar, and perhaps not permanent disposition of' the People, which placed them in their present situation." Certainly, we have hitherto supposed that the Ministry, to use Lord GREY'S expression, was founded on the principles of Reform, and therefore should look to the removal of all " proved abuses." We know that the irresistible determi• nation of the People of England to put an end to the system of corruption on which the country was governed, forced the Tories to give way, and replaced them with professed Reformers. That disposition was, it seems, " peculiar," and perhaps will not be " permanent." Whether the People will at some future time become enamoured of corruption, and sigh for the return of Tories to the high places of power, is more than we can affirm or deny : as yet there is no symptom of such a degrading change. The spirit of the age is at present, beyond all question, the desire for the improvement of our institutions ; and a Ministry that dares to act upon the supposition that it will not be permanent, and may therefore be disregarded, will be as short-lived as short- sighted. Lord MELBOURNE and his colleagues must beware how they act as if the excuse offered for them by their too ingenious ally would be acceptei by the Nation for any abandonment of principle. There is no occasion whatever to settle in a newspaper article the precise line of conduct which Ministers should adopt on all conceivable questions. But the general rule is simple enough. They should not set themselves in the way of Reform. W hen the will of the Nation—that is, of the great majority —is clearly ascertained, then it would be prudent to give all the aid the Exe- cutive has at its disposal to bring about the accomplishment of that will. Where there is reason to doubt what the real wishes of the country are, then let Ministers be neutral as a Cabinet, and suffer Parliament to give an unbiassed vote. The repeal of the Sep- tennial Act, for instance, and the Vote by Ballot, should be dealt with by a Legislature free to judge for itself. The grand com- plaint against the Administration has been, not so much that it has not on all occasions exerted itself to carry popular questions, as that the influence of the Executive is used in opposition to those who bring them forward. Ministers, in fact, meddle with almost every measure which is brought before the House, in their Ministerial capacity, and with Treasury votes : and generally they make mischief mid do harm. We wish that they would confine their exertions to what the Courier defined to be their chief duties—time obtaining oldie Supplies and conducting the busi- ness of the Crown. It is only on the supposition that the present system is to be continued—that they will persevere in grasping at all important questions themselves, or in thwarting all others who undertake tlieir management—that we call upon them so earnestly- to select and mature legislative measures. It is simply their own fault that so much is expected from them in the way of legisla- tion. But it is intolerable that they should insist upon doing badly what others have the time and inclination to do well.
The longer we consider this subject, the more clearly do we per- ceive the necessity of looking more to the House of Commons and less to Ministers for the attainment of really useful measures. The system, which has prevailed for so many years, of Ministers keep- ing the House in leading-strings, has not worked well. There are and always will be a number of men among the Independent Members, at least as well qualified to judge of the actual wants and wishes of the country, and to legislate for their accomplish- ment, as are or will be found in Ministerial ranks. The good old rule of presenting measures for the redress of grievances, and insisting upon their being sanctioned by the Executive, before a shilling is granted in the way of Supply, ought to be again resorted to. Ministers should be responsible for the acts of the Executive, and be treated as the servants of the Crown, not as leaders of the Legislature and controllers of its movements.
If there ever was a practical question on which plain men are qualified to form an opinion, it is that which relates to the duty of Ministers. Each Minister has a department, the business of which it is his duty to attend to. In Parliament, he should at all times be prepared to give info: oration respecting his own proceed- ings and those immediately under him. The legislative measures which he deems necessary to be passed for improving the conduct of his department, should be prepared by him for the considera- tion of Parliament. His own opinion and that of his colleagues should be given, and of course would have great authority : but the Government influence should not be used, even on such questions as these, to persuade Members to vote against their consciences. On subjects of more general interest, the Cabinet should not interfere, as a Cabinet ; but the unbiassed judgment of Members should be suffered to decide upon them.
The Courier asks us triumphantly, what course Ministers ought
to pursue respecting the abolition of the Stamp-duties, and time organization of writers for the periodical press, and in the pending struggle between masters and their workmen ? We reply, that, as Ministers, they ought not to interfere at all respecting the two lat-
ter questions; though they have, most absurdly, and mischievously, and characteristically, thrust themselves into the quarrel between the masters and their workmen,—as good an illustration as could be desired of the truth of our position that Ministers are always putting themselves needlessly in the way : we thank our con- temporary for helping us to it. As regards the abolition of the Stamp-duties, we shall be perfectly content, especially as there is considerable division of opiniou upon it, if Ministers will be so good as to do nothing, but suffer our Representatives to abolish or continue the duties. If the money is absolutely necessary, then it will become their duty to state that, and prove it fairly; and if the tax be abolished notwithstanding, it will of course be with the knowledge that some substitute is to be provided for it.
We have dealt with this subject as a simple and practical one ; for such it is, and has little relation to metaphysics,—though the Courier has endeavoured to mystify its readers, by learned talk about the " exact bounds to the functions of government," " the natural laws on which all government and all society are founded," the theories or practices of the ancients," ",;Bentham and Macculloch, Aristotle and Justinian," &c. All this is very fine ; but has little to do wiUm the necessity of preparation for the busi- ness of next session, or the conduct of Ministers on certain ques- tions of practical reform. But the Courier knows well enough what he is about, and the description of persons in Downing Street whose path it is his aim to smooth. We entirely credit his assertion that he has not received special instructions from the Treasury. lie is too 'cute to need them. But what, in the name of common sense, is the aim or meaning of his writings, if' not to prepare the country for disappointment next session?