« السابقةمتابعة »
ventilation and discussion of such whims during the present session, and the hours frittered away by the Government in showing its condescension for them, we shall readily arrive at one of the primary causes of the delay of public business.
Had there, however, been any sincere desire on the part of the Government to distinguish this session by active legislation, all interruptions must have at once given way before the means which it ought to possess of making its will felt in the Commons. But even before the Easter recess had been reached, it had become evident that the long list of measures enumerated in the Queen's Speech was simply an idle manifesto. The subject of Local Government, which the Liberals have all along put
forward as one of their main claims upon public support, was among the first parts of the Ministerial programme to be thrown aside. Not only were we promised "proposals for the better government of the Metropolis," but "this"-if time should permit "was to be followed by other measures relating to reform of Local Government.' Scarcely, however, had the subject been mooted, when the Government became awake to the fact that there was less hazard in robbing all the landlords in Ireland than in plundering one Livery Company; and care was accordingly taken that time should not permit of the introduction of even the first instalment of the scheme of promised reform. Either Mr Gladstone, like a thrifty statesman, thinks that it is prudent to save his best Liberal baits to catch the constituencies at the next general election; or his Ministers are losing nerve to deal with the questions which they themselves have raised. The Conservancy of Rivers and the Prevention
of Floods Bill has also been shelved; and the Scotch Universities and Police measures, and the subject of education in Wales, will also in all probability furnish another paragraph for another Queen's Speech. The two measures which are to engross the House of Commons for the remainder of the session-the Corrupt Practices Bill and the subject of Compensation for Agricultural Improvements in England and Scotland- are being bandied about by the Ministry in a listless and uncertain manner,-now one obtaining precedence, now the other; and we shall not be surprised if some of these measures do not become law during the present year. The land-law reformers have only to exert themselves upon the Radical section of the House to make the Ministry again see the spectre of "veiled obstruction," and come before the country during the recess clamouring that their benevolent intentions towards the tenant farmers have been again thwarted, and that unless their hands are still further strengthened, they are powerless to effect the despatch of legislative business.
What work has been done has been accomplished in the Standing Committees; and the contrast between the results achieved by these sections and by the general body of the House is so marked as to raise a suspicion that the Government aims at establishing a reputation for these institutions of its own creation, to the detriment of the credit of the whole House, and to found on that a demand for a further extension of the Committee system. The work of the Committees has yet to be subjected to the judgment of the House, and we must wait for its decision before an estimate can be formed of their practical utility. To all intents they have been working
in the dark. The public has not yet learned to follow their proceedings, and the press in general appears to think that very meagre reports of their deliberations are sufficient to satisfy general interest. Yet enough has transpired to show that in the case of the Bankruptcy Act at least, the House of Commons will have to narrowly scrutinise the Committee's conclusions. It was urged at the time when these Grand Committees were first suggested by the Prime Minister, that their deliberations would be peculiarly liable to bear the impress of members' crotchets and pet theories, which the stronger current of opinion in the body of the House generally suffices to efface; and also that there would be less resistance to Ministerial pressure. Both these prognostications have been to some extent justified; and the reception of the Bankruptcy Bill by the House will not be less critical on account of the overbearing disposition which the President of the Board of Trade has shown with regard to some of its more important provisions, while the nerves of the Committee on Criminal Law have already given way before the immensity of the work.
The suspicion to which we pointed last month, that the inertness of the Government was due in some measure to a want of harmony among its members, has been verified by the retirement of Lord Rosebery from the management of Scotch affairs, and by other differences in the same department which appear to have been for the time accommodated. Elaborate explanations have been made-so elaborate that they at once arouse distrust of their sincerity-showing that Lord Rosebery's retirement had nothing to do with pique at Sir William Harcourt's insolent observa
tions regarding his tenure of office, and was dictated by a spirit of pure loyalty for the convenience of his party. The unusual course has been adopted of publishing a Government memorandum to assure the public that Lord Rosebery was not at all aggrieved at the Home Secretary's remarks; and it must add greatly to any grief that may be felt at his lordship's retirement, that the State has temporarily lost the services of a nobleman who possesses such command over his feelings, and can bear impertinence in a true spirit of Christian forgiveness, when it is for the good of his party. The old proverb, fier comme un Ecossais, does not seem to hold good among the official Liberals from the north of the Tweed nowadays, for the Scotch papers have been chronicling that threats of resignation on the part of the Lord Advocate, called forth by the Home Secretary's "little ways,"
are now withdrawn, and that harmony is restored in that quarter also. If the retirement of these officials were the only matter in question, it would be a matter of comparative indifference how Mr Gladstone rearranged his departments; but when we are told that, to promote the comfort of the happy family gathered under Sir William Harcourt's wing, a special department for Scotch affairs is to be created, the Scotch must naturally be caused considerable uneasiness. If such a department is to be called into existence, we have no hesitation in saying that it is for the special advantage of some protégé of the Ministry - and not on account of any desire or need that exists in Scotland for a machinery to manage its affairs separate from that of the rest of the country. The experience which the Scotch have had of their interests being committed to
a particular Minister, was that such an arrangement never gave general satisfaction; nor was it until its politics were merged in those of the country generally, that it ever obtained legislative justice. The oppressive régime of the Stair family was as unpopular with the one side as the more equitable rule of the Dundases 1 was with the other; and it is quite certain that when Scotch affairs fell entirely within the control of the Home Office, local jobbery became less. rampant, and the despatch of business more efficient. It seems rather inconsistent that a Government, whose zeal for centralisation led it to transfer the very efficient Scotch Education Department from Edinburgh to Whitehall in opposition to the unanimous wish of the country, should now consider it necessary to create a special Ministry for Scotch affairs; and the only conclusion that can be come to is, that the convenience of the Ministry and not the wish of the country is being consulted. With the exception of a handful of Scotch Liberal members who feel that their own importance would be enhanced, and a considerable group of place-hunters who would like to see the good old days of Caledonian jobbery revived, there exists no desire north of the Tweed for being cut off from the rest of the country. The time for such an experiment is also peculiarly malapropos. The Irish agitation for Home Rule has proved too lucrative a profession not to commend itself both to writers and stump orators in other parts of Britain; and in the present un
settled condition of the Scottish Celts, we see unmistakable signs that the Irish ferment has not been lost upon the more ignorant masses of the Scottish Highlanders. When federalism is becoming so fashionable a doctrine, it is time to draw closer rather than to loosen any bonds of union that exist between the various members of the
British empire. We can appeal to experience to corroborate the dangers that are attendant on such a course as Mr Gladstone is now proposing to adopt. A good deal more than thirty years ago, when Scotland was suffering grievously from the neglect of the Liberal Government and of the Scotch Crown officers, and when Scotch interests were being mercilessly sacrificed to Ministerial parsimony, a cry was raised for "Justice to Scotland," and an influential movement set on foot, in which the late public-spirited Earl of Eglinton, Sir Archibald Alison, and other distinguished Scotsmen, took a prominent part, and which was ably supported in the pages of this Magazine by Professor Aytoun. But the promoters speedily perceived that popular feelings, when once aroused, were liable to go too far on the subject, and even to include the Treaty of Union in their scope; and so the movement was let drop as speedily as possible. The danger now of isolating Scotland is far greater than it was then. Not only ought the Government to take into account the condition of the Highlands, which, under the flatteries of sham philo-Celts and the intrigues of wire-pullers, is steadily assuming an anti-Saxon attitude, visible in
1 A northern quatrain has preserved the popular sentiments of the Scotch with regard to their experience of such departments as Mr Gladstone now proposes to create
"First came the men of mony wimples
Who rode our lords and lairds like asses.'
2 See Alison's Autobiography, vol. ii. pp. 30, 31.
agrarian disturbances and Sunday rioting, but it ought to remember that the chief cities in Scotland each contain their quota of the disciples of Mr Bradlaugh, as well as a large number of Irish HomeRulers, all of whom would view with satisfaction what they would not greatly err in considering as a step in the direction of imperial disruption. We say nothing of the loss which Scotland would sustain by being reduced to the position of a province, and by having its laws characterised by the narrower impress of local feelings,-by being, in a word, thrown back into the position which it occupied in the last century, and from which it has always congratulated itself upon having escaped. The proposal was at the outset so obviously conceived in the interest of an individual, and to pay off personal obligations, that we have no doubt it will be dealt with by Parliament in a spirit of firm and effectual opposition; and we are inclined to think that the Government would have scarcely ventured to broach the subject had it not calculated upon finding adequate excuses, during the remainder of the session, for indefinitely postponing the creation of a Scotch department. The objection which was made to Lord Rosebery as a peer, would of course prevent him from filling the proposed office; and Mr Craig Sellar has been mentioned for the post, doubtless on account of the soothing effect which his name would be expected to produce upon the Northern Highlanders but the measure will be generally looked upon as an attempt to convert Scotland into an appanage of Dalmeny.
The caution with which the Government has selected its two stock-subjects of legislation for the remainder of the session, contrasts very strongly with so rash a proposal as that which we have been
considering. Neither the Corrupt Practices Bill nor the two Agricultural Holdings Bills contain in principle much debatable matter; but at the same time, none of these measures can redound to the particular credit of the Liberal Ministry. They are measures due to the country, and must have fallen to be taken up by any Government that was holding office at the present time; but we see nothing in them of that boldness of conception or originality of design which would have been expected from a Ministry of All Talents with a strong majority at its back. The only statesmanship shown in the Government's scheme for the suppression of corrupt practices at elections, consists in the still further penalising professional agencies for the benefit of caucus leaders. cardinal defect is, that it recognises no other means of corruption except bribery, while experiences of the caucuses have made it clearly manifest that there are other ways of wooing these bodies not less corrupt in principle, not less objectionable in practice, than was the good old system of purchasing free and independent electors at so much per head. professional men are employed by candidates, the course followed is much more easily traceable than when the question of agency becomes mixed up with the occult machinery of the caucus. The sympathy of members on both sides of the House must unquestionably be in favour of limiting electioneering expenditure; but there is also a danger that candidates may be driven, when the higher order of agents quit a field that has ceased to be remunerative, to call to their assistance canvassers who will hold their honour in very doubtful keeping. With a manifest desire upon both sides of the House to impose a decided check
upon electoral corruption, the conclusion to be drawn from the discussions in Parliament is, that no practical means of dealing with the evil has yet suggested itself, and that the Government has but little expectation itself that the present measure will secure complete purity of election. A not inconsiderable portion of the British tax-payers have always been in the habit of looking on a contested election as a harvest of gain; and when these find the old fields where they were wont to glean shut up, they will naturally search about until they can gather their store in other quarters. In the American caucuses bribery and corruption have ever been rampant; while the close way in which the tactics of these bodies are pursued, effectually baffles the intervention of the law. Mr Chamberlain's institutions are too correct copies of the transatlantic originals to warrant us in putting much faith in their superiority to venality. The 'Times' coolly meets such objections as these, by arguing that "as the Conservatives are making rapid progress in the art of caucusing, it does not appear that any great unfairness can arise." We cannot, however, admit as a fact that the system upon which Conservative organisations are based has any affinity to the secret and oppressive machinery which the President of the Board of Trade has imported into the country. Such criticisms, however, show that little is expected on any side from the Corrupt Practices Bill; and it seems, after all, a poor measure for the Government to waste its strength and the time of the House upon, during the remainder of a session in which so little has *been accomplished, and in which it has constantly complained that it was prevented by obstruction from dealing with other measures
of which the country urgently stands in need.
The Agricultural Holdings Bills for England and Scotland are being regarded by the majority of the House with much the same spirit of passive apathy as is shown towards the Corrupt Practices measLike the latter, the subject of Compensation to Tenants for Improvements is accepted as a question with which Parliament has to deal, though many sections of the House of Commons would prefer to look upon it rather in the light of a future contingency than as a present necessity. Yet the bill is one that different sections of members approach from very different points of view. The old Whigs, faithful to Lord Palmerston's favourite maxim, that "tenants' rights are landlords' wrongs," are unwillingly dragged into supporting the measure, yet with a sense that they are powerless to refuse. The Radicals, on the other hand, are indignant that all the agrarian agitation which has been kept on foot during the last few years, and the high hopes which Mr Gladstone's Irish land legislation excited, should be followed by results which fall so far short of the demands which our land reformers were gathering courage to put forward. The Liberals, sensible of the want of sympathy with the measure on both wings, have little heart to push the bill forward; and we need not be surprised to hear that it also has been sacrificed to the shade of "veiled obstruction," or that Ministers are proposing to claim sympathy from the country during the recess for the failure of their efforts to do justice to the farmers. The Conservatives, however, have from the beginning been quite ready to co-operate with the Government in passing the Agricultural Bills, and indeed would have preferred to have seen pre