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Committees on private bills, in nineteen cases out of twenty neglected the rights of the poor ; not wilfully, but because the poor could not afford to come up to London and pay counsel to urge their claims. His Grace referred more particularly to enclosure bills, but the expense of either promoting or opposing a private bill is still unquestionably enormous ; it is estimated that £750,000 is spent annually in this way, and with very little certainty as to the result : as was shown in the case of the Manchester Ship Canal scheme, which in 1883 was passed by the Commons and rejected by the Lords ; while in 1884 it was passed by the Lords and rejected by the Commons, 110 days in the two years being occupied in the discussions.
On the other hand-and this is very important—there has ne been a suspicion of corrupt verdicts on the part of the Parliamentary Committees; and the public show their confidence in the system by investing something like £20,000,000 under it annually.
It is plain, therefore, that this is by no means the least important or difficult branch of a subject, which is so great and so difficult that it will take the best part of a session to deal with it adequately-a fact which is not the least of the difficulties that surround it. For there are many great questions with which Parliament is pledged to deal, and with which any Government, whether for its present credit or its future advantage, would wish to deal at once and as best it can; and I fear there is little inducement just now to put aside other business in order to devote many weeks to Procedure. It is not a vote-catching reform, for the public has got so accustomed to complaints of obstruction, that it has begun to look on them as a conventional excuse, and part of the regular stock-in-trade of the powers that be. Nevertheless, any Ministry that addresses itself in earnest to the task of making the House of Commons a business-like assemblage will deserve well of the country.
POLITICS AT HOME AND ABROAD.
THE Session of 1887 is fast coming to a close, and with more satisfactory results than could at one time have been anticipated. The Proclamation of the National League affords consoling and not unneeded evidence that the art of Government is not yet extinct amongst us, and that the Realm still has Rulers who, in the last resort, have the courage to do their duty, even in the face of violent resistance from their foes, and of lukewarm support from a portion of their friends. For this happy result, the country is indebted, in large measure, to the decision of the Prime Minister and the sound judgment of the Chief Secretary. As Lord Hartington, with characteristic candour, stated in the House of Commons, the Liberal Unionists were, as a body, more or less opposed to the proclamation of the League, and they communicated this view to Lord Salisbury. So much deference has been shown to their opinion, and most properly shown, that many persons persuaded themselves the Cabinet would never act in opposition to their counsels. But people are slow to understand that deliberation is not weakness, nor a willingness to listen to others any presumption of a vacillating temper. Because Lord Salisbury waived his own convictions in the original remoulding of the Land Act out of respect for the representations made to him by Lord Hartington, it was hastily assumed that the Government lives on the sufferance of the Liberal Unionists. The Proclamation of the National League ought to dispel that delusion. The resolve of the Prime Minister and his colleagues was taken notwithstanding the resistance of the Liberal Unionists, and in face of the further fact that organs of opinion usually favourable to the Government abstained from recommending the course on which it had resolved. We hail with the utmost satisfaction this exhibition of independent resolve on the part of our responsible Rulers.
As regards the merits of the case itself, we entertain no manner of doubt that the Government, in proclaiming the League, has acted well and wisely. All it has done has been to provide itself with power to suppress that Body, or any of its branches, in case of necessity, without having to call Parliament together. To have
run the risk of having to summon the Legislature afresh in the autumn, would have been an act of criminal levity. In the name of common sense, what was the meaning of devoting six months to obtaining authority to proclaim the League, if, when the authority was granted, it was not to be used ? The plea that the National League has been frightened into decent behaviour by the passing.of the Crimes Act, and that nothing more is necessary to
a continuance of that attitude, is the shallowest of suggestions. Mr. Parnell and his auxiliaries, no doubt, are frightened by the indications of a more resolute spirit on the part of the Executive. But how long would their wholesome terror last, if they once began to suspect that the Government had armed itself with a weapon it shrank from using ? Even, in the most ordinary circumstances, those who intend to break or defy the law require to be convinced that Authority intends to uphold it. But in Ireland this belief had all but died out, in consequence of the weakness and indulgence of the Executive. The belief has now in some measure been revived. But it would speedily perish afresh, if the enemies of legality began to suspect that the Government was wavering in its purpose.
Indeed, the only reproach we should be inclined to address to the Government is that it did not proclaim the National League on the very morrow of the Crimes Act receiving the assent of the Crown ; for Ireland would thereby have been more forcibly struck with the courage and resolve of those who administer the law. At the same time, there is an answer even to this criticism, but an answer that is itself a reproach to our Constitution. Had the Government taken the course we indicate, the arts of Parliamentary Obstruction would have been yet more vigorously applied, and the House of Commons might have found itself far advanced into the autumn before it could pass the Estimates. Nor is this all. One of the calculations of the Opposition, as led by their present chiefs--and Mr. Bright has just declared that it is the most unjust and envenomed Opposition he has ever known in his long experience—is that they can, if not absolutely kill, at least physically disable, the occupants of the Treasury Bench, and it is possible they might have succeeded by these brutal tactics in thwarting those whom they can neither answer nor outvote.
However, all 's well that ends well; and not only has the League been proclaimed, but the House of Commons, challenged to approve the step, has done so by the handsome and unexpected majority of 78. The Debate raised by Mr. Gladstone was comparatively brief, but it showed two striking results. One was, that the right honourable gentleman has reached the lowest depths of
rhetorical invective, towards which he has long been tending. The . other was the demonstration given by the Chief Secretary, in his reply to Mr. Gladstone, that those who selected him for that post did not overrate his powers. Mr. Balfour has more than justified the predictions of those who affirmed that under a gentle and graceful exterior there lurked a strong will and a copious reserve of masculine diction. To use a popular phrase, he left Mr. Gladstone not a leg to stand on. For the rest, the main significance of the debate, brilliantly conducted though it was from the Treasury Bench, is to be sought in the Division, and in the fact that, notwithstanding the hesitating attitude of a portion of the Liberal Unionists, the Government stood firm, and carried its point. A like spirit of determination was manifested by the Cabinet in its final treatment of the disputed clauses of the Land Act. We cannot too often or too forcibly repeat the opinion we have so often expressed in this Review, that the most necessary and valuable quality in any Government, after sound judgment, is unflinching courage. The country has shown, over and over again, that it will follow those who lead resolutely, even when they lead in a wrong direction. We are not asking that the blind should lead the blind. But we do urge, and we shall never desist from urging, on the Conservative Party, that the whole art of government consists in discerning what it is right to do, and then doing it without delay or hesitation. It would be most unreasonable to complain of the attitude adopted by the Liberal Unionists in regard to the proclamation of the League, and, indeed, they for the most part voted with the majority in the Division taken on Mr. Gladstone's Motion; while the speech delivered by Lord Hartington on the occasion was as valuable to the Government as it was sensible and just. Nor have we any quarrel with those who, like Mr. Chamberlain, enforced their opinion with their vote; for they, too, have been quick to recognize the more steadfast temper of the Government, and to respect it, nor is there the smallest fear of their wavering in their determination to resist Mr. Gladstone and all his works. While on this subject, we may call the attention of our readers to the fact, which we are sure they will note with satisfaction, that the present number of the National Review, like the last, contains important contributions from prominent members of the Liberal Unionist Party; and we have every reason to believe that they will henceforward largely avail themselves of its pages for the exposition of their opinions and the ventilation of their views.
The Government has shown itself equally resolute in insisting that the Allotments Bill should be passed this Session. We shall not attempt to conceal the fact that we share the misgivings of Mr.
Goschen respecting the concession of principle underlying this Measure; for, ardently as we desire to see every labourer-and, if it were possible, every mechanic-in England, in possession of a garden plot, we should infinitely prefer that this most desirable end should be attained by some other means than legislative compulsion. At the same time we are well aware that these are not days when it is wise or useful to be too doctrinaire in opinion, and that the extreme complexity of modern social life affords much excuse for those who affirm that legislation cannot repose entirely on principles of government and society entirely harmonious and consistent with themselves. Moreover, we readily confess that the Allotments Bill is a circumspect Measure, and that much care has been taken to respect individual rights and the purse of the taxpayer. It remains to be seen whether the Bill will be as operative as its framers intend it to be. But whether it is or it is not, we again exhort all owners of rural land to bestir themselves without delay, and to see that no cottage exists on their estate that has not its strip of garden. In saying this, we are well aware that most landowners have already, and many of them long since, complied with this injunction. It is only to the minority we address ourselves; but they have the example of Ireland before them to show what mischief can be wrought, to the detriment of the majority, by a minority insensible of its obligations; or unwilling to do its duty.
For the rest, we entertain no doubt whatever that the Government is much stronger at the end of the Session than it was at the beginning; and, in saying this, we do not lose sight of the one or two bye-elections, out of the verdict of which the Opposition have striven to make so much capital. But those elections were fought at an unfortunate moment, when the nation was in doubt as to the intentions and courage of the Government. The exhibition of firmness and energy since shown by the Cabinet has reinstated it in public opinion ; and we entertain no fear of the future, if only the same spirit of resolution be continuously manifested.
Little or no change has occurred in the Political Situation abroad, notwithstanding that the month has not been deficient in interesting incidents. The most striking and perhaps the most important of them has been the acceptance by Prince Ferdinand of the Crown of Bulgaria, and his courageous entry into the Principality. The Prince has been exposed to a good deal of obloquy for the obvious independence and the apparent rashness of his conduct; but we shrewdly surmise that not a few of the reproaches that have been addressed to him are insincere. The