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" as society advances in numbers and in improvement, the manifold avocations of the artificer come to be parcelled out among separate sets of hands, and to constitute in reality, totally distinct branches of industry;" nothing, as we all know, in the slightest degree approximating to which, does our legislature, in its whole history, present us with.
'In unfolding and vindicating our views of the imperfection of our existing legislative arrangements, and of the absolute necessity in their instance, of recurring to more of the principle of the division of labour, the first point to which we shall solicit attention is, the infinity of matters that are now submitted to parliament, as often as it assembles, to be discussed, legislated upon, or in one way or another disposed of.
If very summary or general proof only were needed of the great aggregate of these matters, we should have it, at once and most conclusively, in the declaration made by Mr. Secretary Peel, in the House of Commons, April 13th, 1826, that“ PARLIAMENT WAS OVERWHELMED
We should have it further in the open avowal of the Speaker of the House of Commons himself, May 4th, of the preceding session, that “ the increase of business in parliament had come to be such, that it was impossible to say what matter would be brought on upon any appointed day, and what would not; a state of things,” he remarked," " from which the greatest inconvenience resulted, both to members and to the public.”
* But for realizing all that we contemplate, mere general allegations will not suffice ; and we must trouble the reader therefore with some details.
• At different times during the last few sessions, it has been announced by the public journals, that on certain days which they specify, such a variety of Committees sat upon bills, that the House of Commons, with all its accommodations, could not contain then. We ourselves can give dates within the period we speak of, when not fewer than five-and-twenty committees of the House have sat on the same day ; and when also not less than eight, and even twelve separate committees on perfectly distinct bills, many of them, of course, with their accompaniments of clerks, professional attendants, witnesses, &c. have actually met in the same room, the room being one too of most limited dimensions. All this, however, falls short-very far short, of what has been known to occur. We have lying before us the report of the committee of the House of Commons, appointed in the session of 1825, to consider, among other things, of means for providing additional accommodation for the meeting of committees. We there read as follows : “During the present session, the members' waiting-rooms, the long gallery, the House of Commons itself, and even the Court of Exchequer, have been occupied by committees. Two hundred and seventy-six sittings have been held, of public committees. Four of the public committees, and thirty committees on private business, have met on a single day, nineteen of the latter having been fixed to meet in one room.
VOL. XII.- Westminster Review.
"We shall give one statement more, particularly as it shows an important consequence of this pressure of business, affecting both members and the public, which is not of a nature at first sight to arrest attention. " There were down on their Order Book," said the honourable member for Aberdeen in the House of Commons, May 11, 1827, “a list for that day of no less than thirty-two committees. Of these as many as five respected Scotland, upon each of which his sense of duty would have led him to attend, had it been possible for him to have done so."
• It would be indulging our own feelings if we stopped to comment here, on the bustle and confusion, as a mere scene, that is thus brought under our view, and the like to which is certainly not to be met with in the workshops of the commonest handicraftsmen.
• But the quantity of our modern laws is the consideration uppermost in our minds, and which it more immediately behoves us at present to speak to: and touching this single but most weighty item, what is the issue of the toil and hurly-burly that has been described ? Why, that a inass of acts is added to the Statute Book every session, to peruse, we might almost say, but unquestionably to dig 'st which, the ordinary terın of human life would hardly suffice for!
Accidental circumstances have induced us, in the main, to limit our strictures regarding parliament to the period that intervened between 1822 and 1828, both years inclusive ; and which embraces, it will be observed, by no means the whole of the present reign, to say nothing of the regency. During that period, however, comprising seven short sessions only, the benefits, in the shape of acts of parlianient, conferred upon the country, have been to the enormous amount of two thousand one hundred, and upwards !
In performing the part allotted to it in the work of law-making, the compendious way in which the Crown, in these times, proceeds, is deserving, we think, of some mention. The Houses of Lords and Commons, it is well known, notwithstanding the numbers and urgency of the matters that crowd upon them, always entertain every measure submitted to them separately. It is equally well known, that every measure must there advance by stages, and that for each stage, a different day is appointed. His Majesty, however, as at present advised, sanctions and sends into the world these measures, in bevies of eighty, and even a hundred at a time; thus reducing himself, in the performance of one of the most exalted of his functions, to the level of a mere puppet or mechanical agent; and rendering quite farcical the doctrine, which in our books at least is to be found, however it may now be abrogated in practice, of an additional security being derived to the nation, in the passing of its laws, by the exercise, in turn, of the royal wisdom or discretion with regard to them.'*---pp. 3-8.
* We have spoken in this paragraph quite within compass, for on May 5, 1826, the royal assent was given to eighty-six bills ; and on the 26th of the same month, the ceremony was repeated to the tune of one hundred and twelve.
This is one of those many facts the familiarity of which divests them of their force. We read in the newspapers that the king has between his luncheon and his drive, or between his drive and his luncheon, given bis assent to a score of laws affecting the lives, liberties, or properties of twenty millions of people without an idea of the character of the act, and its bearing on the structure of our "matchless constitution.” The reception of a questionable aspirant for the entrée of the drawing, room is an affair of infinitely more moment and consideration than his majesty's consent to a law however grave its nature, or doubtful its effect. But the king does not stand alone in this basty and careless assent to measures of legislation. He does that in the gross which others do at intervals. The majority of the Ayes in the House of Commons are as carelessly given as the royal assent. Members, from indolence, a com
laisant reliance on the wisdom of government, or corrupt motives, essentially act the same part which the king does from constitutional etiquette. A beanty which Blackstone has overlooked in our kingly estate is, that it is capable of, and prone to, thwarting legislation in its progress, but practically not free to refuse the completion. It may procure abortion in ventre, but not strangle the offspring of parliament after delivery. There is in this particular, full liberty of intrigue, but in fact, none of judgment, in the royal office. The history of the Catholic Relief, whenever it appears, will furnish a striking instance in support of this assertion. It is justly observed by Mr. Wickens, that the omnipotence of Parliament has encouraged it if not to an opinion of its omniscience, yet certainly to proceeding as though it possessed that properly accompanying attribute. Accordingly there is nothing with which it is not prepared to meddle, and as it has always more to do than it can well perform, so there is no addition that it is not ready to make to a mass of demands on it. The spend-thrift who never intends to pay, cares not by how much the more he increases his debts, and in a similar spirit parliament, which cares not how it performs, is indifferent about the extent of its undertakings. Thus it is constantly playing the bear in the boat, and assuming the direction of affairs in which it should take no part. Frivolous and vexatious legislation is among the reproaches of parliament, which thus contrives to afford a lamentable example of the truth of Montesquieu's remark, that by the habit of attaching importance to things intrinsically trifling, we come to treat as trifles things intrinsically important.
Of this defect, Mr. Wickens draws the following lively representation :
"As to the “ trumpery” character of certain of our laws, it appears to us, that parliament crrs, errs most egregiously, at the very outset of much of its legislation: that, not to speak at this moment of the structure or framing of its enactments, these enactments are in nuniberless instances, in the most emphatic sense of the word, bad, as relating to affairs, or endeavouring to compass objects, of a pettifogging, and indeed contemptible minuteness. This utter want of discrimination on tl.e part of parliament, as to what is really fitting to be entertained by it, we are warranted, we apprehend, in ascribing, without any hesitation, to the multiplicity of its business, and to the little time thus allowed to it, for any thing like circumspection. Upon what other shewing can it be accounted for, that our "legislature should suffer itself to be put in motion, that it should permit its ponderous machinery to be agitated, about such matters as buttons, butter, bread, ounce thread, tailors' wages, apprentices' food, muffin plates, twigs for hoops, newsmen's horns, and we know not what more, that is in the lowest degree pitiful and pedling !*
* There may be no precedent for doing so, but for our own parts, we are quite decided as to the propriety of classing under the head of “trumpery legislation, a vast portion of what is termed the private business, that is every session transacted by parliament. The very cognomen employed to designate this business, we hold to be a justification of the conviction upon this point, which we have long since come to. How any occupation to which the epithet “private” could apply, ever came to fall to the lot of parliament, we shall not stop to inquire; but we put it to the reader, whether it is not calculated to stagger every considerate mind, whether the thing is not of a nature to revolt all our notions of seemliness and congruity, to find the supreme legislative council of the empire, the congregated wisdom of the nation--busying itself, for instance, about widening Pill Lane about improving the avenues to Piff's Elms; about the difficulties felt by Chelsea in disposing of its dust and ashes, and by Dublin in providing itself with Straw ?
**The Speaker of the House of Commons, it is well known, when the opportunity is afforded him at the close of the session, triumphantly recounts to his majesty, the feats that have distinguished it. On these occasions, and while matters remain as they now are, this eminent individual will certainly never do common justice to his theme, till he appends to his harangue, some such recital as the following: “Our anxious attention has been given to the state of the river Ribble, and the roads about Paddle Brook we have directed to be repaired. The communications with Cow Down, Pot-Hook's End,
-* The subjects we specify, have all of them been formerly discussed or legislated upon by parliament in modern times. Upon the question of Blowing Horns in the public streets, the House of Commons divided, June 22, 1821. Forty-three of our Statesinen, Philosophers, Juris-Consults, &c. deciiled against the expediency of continuing the practice, while as many as Eight turned out in favour of leaving the Horn-blowers in the undis. turbed possession of their privilege!
and Bally-hooly, have not escaped our vigilant regards; and, agreeably to an unanimous decision of your faithful Commons, there will henceforth be a rail-way leading to Buillo Pill. Urgent representations having been made to us of the objectionableness of the present site of the Hospital at Sheffield, we have consented to its being changed. The work-house too, at Norwich, will, by our authority, speedily be taken down. To the townships of Skipton and Sharples, a further supply of Water has been awarded ; and fit spots have been indicated by us, for the Plymouth hackney-coach stands. Nothing deterred by the difficulties and entanglements attendant thereon, we have plunged into all the minutiæ of the two great questions—the having a tram road between Manchester and Liverpool, and the lighting Edinburgh with Oil Gas. Delivered,' as we ultimately were, and · in a way suited to the wisdom of parliament,' of these momentous topics, we proceeded to vest Pedlar's Acre in trustees, and to remove doubts, which, we flatter ourselves we have for ever dove, as to the legality of the erection of the portico of St. Mary-le-bone parish church. Furthermore we have passed bills, to which we supplicate your royal assent, authorizing Kitty Jenkyn Packe to hear the arms of Reading : and naturalizing Henry Van Wart!"'*-7. 26-30.
If we may judge er pede, from the effect with which parliament bungles litile concerns, to the probably proportionately greater blunders in more important matters, how much reason must society have to tremble at the temerity of its quacks ? The instances of blunder in things allowing of the more easy proofs of error, are of ludicrous absurdity. For example, says Mr. Wickens
The skill or competency evinced by parliament in its almost innumerable enactments regarding carriage wheels, is thus pithily, and for our purpose, pertinently, summed up, in the report of the Committee of the House of Commons of 1821 on Turnpike roads : “The legislature began," says the report, “ by holding out a premium for wheels, which it was impossible to bring into beneficial use; and it ended, by giving the premium to wheels of such a construction, as it was not desirable to have used at all."-p. 98.
The unuseable wheels are but more easily intelligible examples of the ignorance and folly which have declared the pound-note and shilling equivalent to the guinea, which have maintained Usury-laws, Corn-laws, and the thousand and one other monstrous abominations prized by collective wisdom.
Our author states this more immediate instance of parliamentary appropriate care :
• We will ask if our legislators feel themselves at all in a condition
* These, and a crowd of equally dignified enactments, are to be seen by any one who will run his eye over the tables of the Statutes of the last few Sessions,