It was easy to have a Road Act or a School Act when the King's highroads and the schools could be counted by the score. But it is real insanity now to call up one thousand noblemen and gentlemen to sit for seven or eight months at Westminster, and ask them to settle labyrinthine schemes to regulate the traffic of every road, the gruel in every poorhouse, the twigs in every schoolmaster's birch, the boundaries of every common, and the pay of every doorkeeper in the whole Imperial service.

It is quite true that some of these things are not always embodied in Acts; and that most of these purely administrative Acts are orders prepared in Government offices, formally laid before the House, but passed without delay or discussion. A great deal belongs to that mephitic Dead Sea called private business which so ably seconds the public business in the general asphyxia of Parliament. But it is always open to a member to raise a vote of want of confidence, if a shilling a week is cut off from a messenger's wages. And if the offices do prepare the Bills, the Acts still have to pass their three readings, their committee, and their two Houses. Physical conditions make it impossible to pass more than a limited number of these Bills. The Bills can only be passed of course in session, and in very limited portions of the session. Every order of every department has to be framed with reference to the purely material exigencies of legislation. If the grouse and the Home Rulers are very strong on the wing, roads cannot be made, and the paupers' skilly will still be brewed rather too thick. In fact, every department has to carry on the ordinary administrating of the country, in Parliament, by means of Parliament, and subject to the directions of Parliament. Whenever a hitch occurs, be it only about an infant school, a tipstaff's allowance, or the casual ward in a poorhouse, the department can do nothing till May or June. In May or June the patient minister goes off to Westminster with a score of ponderous bills.' But as every other minister has the like, and plenty of private members too, the result is an inextricable jam, and welter of bills, schedules, schemes, and amendments; out of which, in the deadly scramble of July and August, each plucks the bit that he specially cares to save. The mountain of abortive Bills rises higher like a new Babel, thousands of able secretaries and clerks, lawyers, experts, papermakers, and printers, have been lucratively employed; the hopes deferred are deferred again ; the office regrets; the Minister has to meet his constituency and recover his health; the contaminated water continues to poison; the over-luxurious casual ward continnes to enervate the pampered pauper; the schools drone on, and the bankrupts fatten. Parliament has discussed a thousand clauses in a thousand hours. Another session is ended.

Turn lastly to the primaval function of the Commons, which has taken of late such strange forms—the old petition of grieva the

criticism of the executive. It is the most characteristic, and in some ways the most important, of all offices of the House. No one can wish to see it weakened or discredited. But the serious question now is, if this duty is not being abandoned in the indiscriminate medley of subjects that it is suffered to absorb. The old theory was that before the faithful Commons granted the King his subsidies, they had a right to lay before him any grievance that they had against any of his officers. And in order to inform the House, any member had the right to bring to its notice any act of the administration of which he might complain. Such is the old theory. The modern practice, as we know too well, is this. During the session of Parliament it is the right of every member to arrest the whole of the ordinary business, in order to question the Ministers or to make a speech about any single incident, however trivial, however technical, however incapable of being treated as a grievance, in any part of her Majesty's dominions, or indeed in any part of the habitable world. Quidquid agunt homines, nostri est farrago sermonis. The interminable flow of questions' has often of late occupied a fourth, a fifth, or even more of an entire sitting. Beside this, halfnights, quarter-nights, sometimes even whole nights, are consumed in rambling statements about anything under the sun, from the Colorado beetle to the whipping of a small thief, about a scuffle amongst the Turkoman Tartars of the Steppe, or the cattle plague in Russia or the fisheries in Hudson Bay. Everything in fact which may reasonably serve for a paragraph or a letter in the Times newspaper, is the fitting material for a question or a debate. I would not speak disrespectfully either of the Steppe, the Equator, or the North Pole, much less of Colorado beetles or the cuticle of any small boy, be he larcenous or virtuous. We all wish to see the due investigation of abuses by Parliament. But there are limits to the omniscience and omnipotence even of Parliament; and if its myriad-faceted eye is to be turned sleeplessly on every act of the entire human and animal race, if every fact recorded in the daily newspapers is the fit subject of a night's debate, we need a thousand Parliaments all sitting simultaneously and in permanence to get through the work.

We are so much accustomed to this, and the Ministers submit to it so tamely, that we forget how perfectly idle and comic the business has become. The only thing which we can compare with this side of the work of the House of Commons are the answers to correspondents in the lower London and provincial newspapers. Senex 'wants to know the surname of Her Majesty. Nemo would like to know what was the first song that Mario sang in public ?'How many words and lines are there in the Bible ?' Three bagmen ask the editor of the Dispatch to settle the question, 'if Charles Dickens was called Boz after the maiden name of his grandmother?'—and so forth, and so forth. This is the kind of question which occupies the British Senate. Will the Secretary of War say whether John Smith, a private of the 199th regiment, now stationed in New Zealand, has been ordered extra drill, and why? Can the Foreign Secretary inform the House whether rain has fallen in the Rocky Mountains ? Will the Home Secretary remove the orange-peel on which an old fishwoman fell at Wapping Old Stairs? The other day the Ministry were interrogated (in compliment perhaps to Mr. Gladstone) whether a particular planetree was going to be cut down. Not a sparrow is to fall on the face of the earth but the omniscience of Parliament shall ask a question about its fate. Ministers are expected to supply the inquiring minds of the Commons with disquisitions on botany, entomology, and physics, the milkiness of the cocoa-nut crop in the Windward Islands, the rainfall of the Sahara, the ravages of the wire-worm, and the best antidote against the potato-bug. Domitian, the Roman emperor, called the Senate to consult on the sauce to be served with a unique and very big turbot. The Britisń Senate is expected to determine the sauce of the smallest fish that swims in any corner of the ocean. Hence the antiquarian origin of the whitebait dinner.

The consequences of this interminable chatter are obvious. Serious politicians avoid the whole business. It is the favourite preserve of the busybodies, the bores, and the mischief-makers. No valuable information is ever extracted. It is a point of honour with a Minister to give such an answer as a well-bred man gives to an inquisitive stranger. The art consists in completely baffling his curiosity, without uttering a word that can be called untrue. It is a very pretty game, and is intensely relished by those who look on. A born politician may make it the occasion to display very high resources of knowledge and tact. Thus, Sir Charles Dilke, who has but few opportunities for set speeches, has acquired a just reputation as a consummate master of the art of answering questions. He is usually put on his defence two or three times a night; yet in two long sessions he bas probably never uttered a word which he did not wish to be uttered, or a word which has not been of some service to the Foreign Office.

The best proof that this question' nuisance is merely an idle game, and not a political duty, is found in the fact that statesmen of the front rank hardly ever ask any questions, and that a political issue is hardly ever affected by any answers. The reason is plain. The first rule of the parliamentary game of cross questions and crooked answers' is this: that a question must stand by itself; it cannot be followed up by consequential questions, or followed or preceded by a speech. Every advocate knows that it is worse than useless to put a question to a hostile and skilled witness, if you are not in a position to follow up his answer. In nine cases out of ten an experienced advocate would refuse to put any questions where all cross-examination is strictly precluded. To put one isolated question to a skilled adversary is to enable him to make an ex-parte speech. The practice flourishes because the questions are usually put by busy

bodies whose sole purpose is to shine in the local newspaper, and to make themselves heard in the House on very cheap terms. The answers are given by ambitious young Ministers, who jump at the opportunity of stating half the case, with no one to reply or trouble them about the other half. It is a very significant example of the way in which the abuse of an old form has actually suppressed that which it was intended to effect. The real interrogation of officials is impossible without cross-examination, the power of following up questions and driving the witness to a final definite issue. All crossexamination being forbidden by the rules of the House, the question system is now a method by which the Ministers can state half the case, and actually mislead those who question them.

The system of questions' as now practised does not afford the smallest guarantee that the House will know what a Ministry are doing, or what they have done. Whilst hours were being wasted every night about a plane-tree, a squabble in a regiment, or a whipping in a school, it was impossible for the late Ministerial party to get a hearing for their serious criticism on the policy in Africa. I think the policy of the Government in the Transvaal in the highest degree wise and honourable; but a great many people think very much the contrary. And it seems to me monstrous that whilst Ministers are called on for reports about the cocoa-nuts in Asia, and the bad language of a drunken sergeant in the Pacific, they cannot be called on to explain what they are about to do in the matter of peace or war in a large section of the Empire. The question system is at once insufferably prolix and utterly futile. During the five or six months when Parliament is not sitting, there is not even the pretence of questions. War is declared or resolved on; treaties are made; nations are annexed; guarantees are given ; and burdens are undertaken; and Parliament cannot make the smallest sign. The Parliament which for six months is noisily busy about plane-trees and cattle plagues in Siberia, is for six months silent as the dead about the fate of the Empire. Parliament has its epochs like those of the Pole--for six months a fatiguing blaze of light, for six months the cold obstruction of unbroken silence.

The gist of the case lies here, that if Parliament is to exercise any efficient control over the executive, there must be two paramount conditions. The first is that the control must be continuous, without these long intervals. The second is that the controlling power must be able to cross-examine, and to follow up an official answer. If Committees of the House existed like the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States Senate, if Ministers could be publicly or privately summoned to explain their acts and their plans, with full power of cross-examination, and all the facilities of a strict official inquiry, something like a real control over the home and foreign policy of a Government would be established in Parliament. But then these committees must sit, or have the power of sitting, continuously, and be ready to act at a week's notice, whether the House be in session or not. It is ludicrous to ask in Parliament questions about foreign and home affairs, as to which it is often the bounden duty of an honest Minister to refuse premature information. But there is no reason why real and important questions should not be privately pressed to the satisfaction of a properly constituted committee of ex-Ministers and Privy Councillors.

The term of the sittings of Parliament is finally conclusive on the question as to the possibility of the House of Commons really to exercise executive functions, whether by way of controlling the executive or passing executive orders in the form of Acts. If the House of Commons is to be the executive, or is to control the executive, it ought to sit continuously with the executive; that is to say, it ought to sit permanently, with no real interruptions. The Foreign Office, the Home Office, the Exchequer, and the War Office are always open and always at work. If their work has to get the fiat of the House of St. Stephen, or is to be virtually carried under its eye, the House of St. Stephen ought to be open in October and November, in December and January, just as much as in May and June. If Ministers' orders are to be Acts of Parliament, a Minister ought to be able to get his administrative Act within forty-eight hours, and that in the antumn as well as in the spring. It is perfectly monstrous that the House of Commons insists on its sanction being given to a multitude of purely administrative details; and yet that for five or six months there is no House to which one can go, and when it is open the rush is so great that not a tenth part of the matters can be dealt with. Omnipotence should not be like that of the gods of Epicurus-alternating with periods of somnolence and nonchalance. The sessions of Parliament are, in view of the work to be done, at once too long and too unfrequent. For six months in the year the control of the executive is left to the Times newspaper; and for six months in the year the commonest administrative order which technically requires the sanction of an Act is necessarily delayed, whatever the damage to the public or the service. In any case, a Legislature which has become a vast administrative bureau ought never to adjourn for more than two months. If the House were to confine itself to the principles of public policy and the general scheme of legislation, and cease to be an executive machine altogether, two sessions in the year, each lasting two months, would be amply sufficient. At present, whilst its own titular claim to control the administration paralyses the House of Commons, the House, by its pretensions to administer directly, paralyses the Executive. It exhausts the Ministers at the same time that it trammels them.

To conclude, we may rest assured that any reform of mere technical procedure will be simply a plaster on a wound until the real question is settled—Is the House of Commons the proper body to carry on the executive of this vast Empire, or directly to control the

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