25 MAY 1867, Page 19


Mn. TODD has undertaken a task which ought long ago to have attracted students of the Constitution and history of England. Speaking generally, we have a practical acquaintance with the working of our Parliamentary system ; we have a knowledga of the forms of procedure, imperfect probably, but not incorreat; and we know the fundamental theories of the Constitution. Few among us, however, could reconcile theory and practice, or even state the theory fully, and no one has ever before attempted to work out the theory into all its details, and illustrate all the points of contact between the executive and legislative powers. Mr. Todd, who is the Librarian of the Canadian Legislature, long ago had his attention, almost accidentally, attracted to this sub- ject, and he has now set before the world the first half of a work which in design is eminently useful, and in execution is, at least, not glaringly defective. The present volume contains a general introduction, which gives to the author's political views somewhat undue preponderance ; a historical introduction, of which the first part is good and valuable on the whole, and the second part, annals of the successive Administrations from 1782 to 1866, well planned, but very unskilfully worked out ; an account of the constitutional position of the Sovereign, and a detailed disserta- tion on the Royal prerogative as controlled by Parliament. The second volume is to describe the origin and importance of the Cabinet Council, the functions of the several Ministers, and the conduct of public business, 8ce., by the Administration. There is nothing in the book which is very new or striking-to an English- man, though it would probably be very instructive to a foreigner zealous for constitutional government in the abstract, but

fully ignorant as to the manner in which it is practically worked. Such a reader's first impression would be that the English Consti- tution is the most indefinite thing in the world, that there is in it no logical completeness, no strongly marked lines, and that to attempt to reproduce it by express legislation would be as impos- sible as to copy with a paint-brush the changing tints and imper- ceptibly shifting outlines of a sunset cloud. So far he would be right, and Mr. Todd deserves credit for having portrayed so com- pletely a system so subtle ; but his next impression would be an erroneous one, for which also Mr. Todd is responsible. He would gather that the Sovereign has very real and substantial power in England, and that the common belief about England being a land of really popular government is absurdly exaggerated. English- men would not be likely to be deceived by the confusion of thought into which the author has fallen, but foreigners, and especially Americans, may easily be misled. Mr. Todd is too diligent and care- ful a student to misunderstand the practical working of our Parlia- mentary machine, and probably he would, if questioned, explain his theoretical language to mean what we all know it ought to mean ; but as it stands, his language is essentially misleading to all those who start with a competent knowledge of the subject.

The Sovereign has now little or no power, properly so called.. The Ministry, in their collective and in their individual capacities, possess very considerable power by virtue of their exercising the executive power generally, or in their several departments, which theoretically belongs to the Crown ; and the Sovereign, by virtue

• On Parliamentary Go-ernment in England. By Alpinists Todd, librarian of the Legislative Assembly of Canada. V.I, I. London: Longman', and Go. of being the only person perpetually in office, and having to con- eider every public question responsibly, may very naturally possess considerable influence. But power the Sovereign personally does not enjoy ; the very theory that some Minister is constitutionally responsible for every public act of the Sovereign, which implies that the Minister gave the advice on which the Sovereign acted, or in other words, dictated the Sovereign's conduct, necessarily also implies that the Sovereign cannot constitutionally do anything of his own will. Mr. Todd, like many other people, is a slave to words ; he imagines that the Queen's theoretical right to nominate her Ministers gives her great and real power, and indulges in a great deal of twaddle about streogthening the legitimate influence of the Crown, in order to check the advancing tendency towards democracy. He is fully alive to the social influence possessed by the Sovereign, and also to the weight which an able Prince may have in public matters, in consequence of his great and continual familiarity with every step of policy ; and these ought not to be omitted in reckoning over the forces which operate upon the complicated machine of English Government. Similarly, there are Royal prerogatives, which have been dormant for generations, and some of them never likely to be exercised again, which are purely potential forces, that have no importance when we are estimating the daily working of the machine, but are always capable of being brought into play. It is probable enough that a strong exertion of disused prerogative would be like inserting a crow-bar into an engine at work ; it would very probably derange the engine, and most infallibly break the crow-bar. Theoretically, however, these powers of the Crown are not to be forgotten, since they not only may some day need to be employed, but also furnish the explanation of some apparent anomalies of ordinary procedure. Mr. Todd of course is not slow to recognize their existence, but he fails to distinguish them fully from the ordinary executive functions. He is not very consistent in his language, nor always perfectly clear in perceiving the exact bearings of an argument, so that it may be as much from want of perspicuity as from any mistaken views that he falls into these confusions. Allowance must also be made for the change that has come over the country of late years. The complete system of Parliamentary government, the universal responsibility of Ministers, may have been acknow- ledged for a century, but they have scarcely been. thoroughly acted on for a quarter of that time. Many of Mr. Todd's remarks were perhaps true of George HI., certainly of earlier Kings, and no formal change has been made in the Constitution ; but a revolution, none the less real because silent, has in fact taken place since George III. dismissed the Administration of "All the Talents" at his own private pleasure, attempted to force his Ministers to pledge themselves never to propose a measure on a matter concerning which he felt strongly himself, and interfered to induce the House of Lords to throw out a Bill carried through the Commons by his own Cabinet. The theory that " the King can do no wrong" is excellent as a constitutional maxim, coupled as it is with the universally admitted responsibility of some Minister for every Royal act ; but any future Sovereign will have a hard task of it who, not content with influence, seeks to take power also into his hands. We should doubt the continued stability of the Throne, if it were long occupied by a profligate scoundrel like George IV., or by a tyrant even in the qualified sense in which George DM strove to deserve that title.

The most useful portion of Mr. Todd's work as a book of refer- ence is the last long chapter, in which he elaborately discusses every item of what he calls the Royal prerogative, which of course is really the power of the Executive, in connection with Par- liamentary control, and supplies instances of the usage or the dicta of statesmen on each point. There may be a little unneces- sary matter, some want of due appreciation of the relative import- ance of things, some defects of arrangement and division, but on the whole this portion is both well designed and satisfactorily worked out. The cardinal point in the relations between Par- liament and the Government is fully and repeatedly brought out,—that the proper function of Parliament is to control, not itself to assume, the exercise of executive functions. Its business, as against the Government, is closely analogous to the business of a Court of law, as against the losers in a civil suit. It cannot, except possibly in rare instances, compel directly the specific performance of any duty, but it can inflict damages for any neglect or contravention of duty. There is no absolute law to prevent any Ministry from acting in defiance of the opinion. of the House of Commons; but no Ministry dares to do it, any more than a private citizen dares defy his liability to damage for any civil wrong done by him. Parliament is ultimately sovereign, although it does not possess, and cannot without detriment attempt to exercise, any executive powers. Although the Crown nominally acts, "no opinions or policy can be carried out by the Government of England but such as meet with the sober approval of Parliament and of the people." Mr. Todd sees very clearly the practical advantages which result from the Executive Ministers being nominally servants to the Crown, acting on their own autho- rity as such servants, and only responsible to Parliament, not directed by it. A large deliberative body is obviously unfitted to manage details, to discuss and determine minutim of administra- tion; and though there would at first sight seem to be incon- venience in the Minister acting first, and being called to account afterwards by a power which he dares not disobey, yet practically this evil is not felt. In the first place, the Ministry for the time being possesses, or is supposed to pos- sess, the confidence of the House of Commons, and can therefore reckon on support to its policy ; and secondly, all matters of im- portance are in fact brought under the notice of Parliament before- hand, either because legislation is necessary, or by means of a question or motion made by some individual member, whether belonging to the Government or not, for that express purpose.

The newest and most interesting portion of Mr. Todd's work, that relating to the Cabinet Council, is yet to come, and it is because his book is unfinished that we call attention to some minor faults which tend to mar the present volume, in the hope that he may avoid them in future, and make the second volume as good in execution as in intention. His accuracy is not altogether unim- peachable; for instance, his language clearly implies that the question of ship-money was decided by the judges in Hampden's favour, and he gives the date of Charles L's execution incorrectly. These are probably mere slips, but they tend to suggest doubt of his historical accuracy upon matters less familiar to the reader, where he must take statements of fact on trust. A little repetition is excusable, but it is always a blemish, and even where it is sought to establish a principle by a series of precedents, it is scarcely necessary to repeat line after line language almost identical as regards the point at issue. Mr. Todd is also rather apt to fall into a confusion between justi- fication of a particular measure and assertion of a right to do it unquestioned. He gives numerous instances of Ministers being called to account for their actions and of their successful defence, but he seldom makes it clear whether he means to show that the Minister admitted the right of Parliament to inquire into the par- ticular matter in question, and satisfied the House that he had acted rightly, or that he denied being responsible in exactly the form and manner in which it was sought to attach responsibility to him. Moreover, his strong Tory opinions lead him into some very irrelevant reflections, and one or two singular statements, as for instance that "a Royal proclamation can add force to a law already made." But with the one important exception that we have already dwelt on, his confusion of thought regarding the power of the Crown, his book is good enough to carry off more important faults than these, and to be a real addition to our con- stitutional literature.