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the power of the men who constitute this body. To begin with, they are the inost expert and adroit Parliamentarians ever known. What Mr. T. Healy, or Mr. Sexton, or Mr. Dillon, or Mr. Parnell himself do not know of Parliamentary tactics, especially of the more crooked description, is not worth knowing. Even if they are baffled on one particular point—which rarely happens—they easily take refuge in another. They are always ready at any moment to spring out to each other's assistance. The guard is perpetually on duty, and supporters are in reserve to prevent the skirmishers from being routed. Should there be any remonstrance from the Conservative benches, it is instantly shouted down. No interruptions from that quarter are tolerated. But the Irish members claim and exercise for themselves the right of interrupting other speakers as often and as much as they please, unless Mr. Speaker is in the Chair, when their zeal is kept within something like due bounds. At most other times, they contrive to regulate the course of debate in the manner most agreeable to themselves.
In another important respect, the Irish contingent is unlike any former group of politicians known to Parliamentary history. They do not own allegiance to a party so much as to a man and an idea. They are not troubled by their constituencies, and need have no doubts about their re-election. They are nominated and elected by one man, and so long as they give reasonable satisfaction to that man--who is anything but a hard task master—they hold perfectly safe seats. It used to be thought a monstrous thing, that some landowner should acquire the control of three or four seats in Parliament, and thus acquire the power of sending to Westminster any one he chanced to select for the honour. We have now a man among us who has eightyfive seats in his pocket, and who does what he likes with them. It has happened before, and we shall be very fortunate if it does not happen again, that these eighty-five members impose
measures on Prime Ministers and on Parliament. When we take this fact into consideration, it may well appear that no private subject of the Crown is so powerful to-day as Mr. Parnell. Other parties in the House of Commons may and will fluctuate in numbers, but his force of eighty-five is a fixed quantity. This is another momentous fact which a weak presiding officer, should we ever see one in the Chair, may often be tempted to keep a little too steadily in view. A Conservative majority may disappear, and a Liberal majority may share the same fate, but the Parnellites will come back as strong as they went away.
Their number is out of all reasonable proportion to the population they represent, an anomaly on
which it will presently be necessary to say a few words more. But no party has thus far proposed electoral reforms in Ireland which would redress the inequality. We have thus a nuinerous, practised, and well-trained force in Parliament who, when legislation is not to their minds, become obstructionists almost to a man. _They act automatically when the proper spring is touched. The leaders come into a Parliament familiar with every device that can be invented, either for the expedition or the delay of business. While new members are trying to master some of the elements of Parliamentary procedure, these veterans are carrying everything before them. They can afford to smile at the indignation and impatience of the new corners. They are almost always at their posts when wanted; they are always full of resource, and always united. It is because people out of doors are not familiar with the working of this force, that they are inclined to make so light of Parliamentary obstruction.
We are aware that it is said, that the House itself ought promptly to suppress all obstructionists, no matter how numerous they may be, or from what part of the country they may come. Such things are easily said. But do the people who say them understand the nature of the problem? To begin with, there is on the part
House of Commons a natural reluctance to part with the ancient liberties, which have been the pride and glory of the mother of Parliaments, and which may even now be requisite, some day or other, for the preservation of the public safety. It does not take very long to throw away these safeguards, but it may afterwards be found impossible to recover them. The House hesitates to place absolute powers in the hands of its presiding officer, or of the Ministry of the day. Very few members, who bave voted for the restrictive measures of the last ten years have done so without regret. The greater their respect for the history and traditions of the House, the keener has been this regret. Again, it must be borne in mind, that no human ingenuity can construct a set of Rules which shall prevent obstruction. The Americans, whom we are now so fond of imitating, especially in all that they would willingly throw away if they could, long ago discovered the impossibility of baffling obstruction in all the forms it could assume. And yet they have adopted the most extreme measures for that purpose. Look at their Lower House. Members have scarcely any personal liberties left. They can rarely find an opportunity of addressing the House; they are completely under the sway of the several Chairmen of Committees; the “Standing Committee' business has been pushed to such an extreme that the House itself is reduced to a cipher.
There is a very severe limit as to the time which any member can occupy, and even when a debate has been opened, it may be closed at any moment by a demand for the previous question, which shuts off all discussion, and must be put forthwith. All business is transacted in private before the Standing Committees. Discussion in Congress seldom affects the fate of a Bill, and never alters the fortunes of parties. It cannot turn out a Ministry ; it cannot change the policy of the Administration, except in rare cases.
Such discussions are not reported in any of the newspapers, because they possess no public interest. There may be a column in a New York paper of the proceedings in the British Parliament the night before, while not five lines will be devoted to the proceedings at Washington. And yet, although Congress has been fettered and hampered in every conceivable way, obstruction oftentimes bars the road to the transaction of any kind of business, and baffles all attempts to deal with it on the old lines. An instructive instance of the kind has occurred this very year. At the opening of the Session of 1890, the Democratic party in the House of Representatives hit upon a new form of obstruction. It is the rule that, when a division is demanded, or a question is put, the
yeas' and 'nays' may be called in the House, each member answering to his name. The Democrats decided to remain silent when the roll was thus called. No measure can be passed, nor any business done, unless a quorum of the House is present, and a quorum consists of a majority of the House. At present the full number of members is 330, and consequently there must be present 166 to form a quorum, this being one more than half the complete House. The Republicans at their full strength can muster exactly 166, but of course there are always some members absent, through illness or other causes, and as the Democrats held aloof, a deadlock was produced. The Speaker, Mr. Reed, decided to have the members counted in their places, whether they answered to their names or not, and thus he obtained a quorum, though not in the way which had hitherto been adopted. There was a great outcry, and the Democrats decided to walk out of the House when a division was called or a question put. But again Mr. Reed introduced a new custom. When once the Democrats were inside the House he kept them there. Having got his quorum together, he shut and locked the doors; and not long ago there appeared in the newspapers an account of an att npt to force these doors, amid a scene of some disorder and violence. Speaker Reed's tactics may be perfectly justifiable, but they are new to the history of the country, and they are evidently regarded with dislike by a large
section of the people. It has been pointed out, by a writer in the North American Review,' that the growth of obstructionor “filibustering,' as it is called in the United States—has inevitably led to the power of the presiding officer being increased, at the expense of the liberties of the House. He observes, with great force, that the power of the Speakership • has of late years grown to such proportions as to constitute a serious menace to the freedom, and even to the stability, of Parliamentary institutions.'
Precisely the same tendency is visible here. But there is this great difference, that whereas in the United States the Speaker of the House of Representatives never ceases to be a partisan, in this country he is an impartial officer of the House, not desiring to use his powers for the benefit of party, and anxious to be kept entirely out of the range of party conflicts. The effect of the changes which have been made of late
years deprive him of this independent and neutral position, and to force him into the field among the combatants.
His impartiality is, at the very least, brought under suspicion. Consider the position into which he is thrown by the operation of certain new rules. A member may be checked for irrelevance or repetition. But if this power be exercised freely, it will soon be said that it is brought to bear more upon the Speaker's opponents in politics than upon his friends. It is a very invidious power to exercise at the best of times. It may be extremely difficult to decide what is repetition of an obstructive kind. Every man who is in the habit of addressing public audiences has found out for himself that some amount of judicious repetition of an argument is necessary, if it is to be made to produce its due effect on the minds of others. How can a presiding officer always tell when that lawful limit is reached ? How is he to decide when a member is irrelevant, unless he knows the whole drift of the argument beforehand ? There may be points which are absolutely essential to the case to be presented, and yet their relevancy may be by no means obvious at first sight. So, again, with the rule throwing upon the presiding officer the duty of deciding whether or not a motion for the Closure shall be put. If he declines to put it, he runs a risk of offending the party in power. If he too readily accedes, he incurs the disapprobation of the Opposition. Every day, therefore, the Speaker or Chairman of Coinmittees is forced to do something, or to leave something undone, which may affect his reputation for impartiality, and tarnish his office with the mire of party strife. A strong and courageous man, like Mr. Speaker Peel, will perform his duty regardless of
personal personal inconvenience. But a weak man will hesitate, or do worse. These are among the effects of wholesale changes in the Rules which have never been adequately considered. It would be only prudent to take them into view before going any further with the same kind of enterprise.
There is still another reason for the hesitation to which we have referred on the part of the House of Commons to take further steps for the curtailment of its own liberties. This springs from the doubt how far the country is in sympathy with such measures. We who are Conservatives say there is no doubt on that point-that the country not only approves, but impatiently demands, stringent regulations against obstruction. But perhaps we only hear our own side of the question. We must remember that our opponents are prepared to deny that they have been guilty of any obstruction whatever. The Radicals generally accept that denial, and what is more, we may safely take it for granted, that they would be prepared even to defend obstructive tactics against a Government which they thoroughly detest, because it is keeping them out of office. In other words, there will always be nearly half of the people who will be prepared to maintain that opposition to the party in power cannot properly be called obstruction. They will refuse to look at this opposition, whatever form it may assume, in the light from which it is regarded by the majority. Out of office, the Conservatives would certainly not pursue the open and avowed obstruction which has so often been practised by the followers of Mr. Gladstone, with his knowledge, not to say with his connivance. For in this respect the greatest of the Parliamentary leaders now living assuredly cannot be held free from blame. Mr. Gladstone himself suffered severely from the obstructionist tactics of the Parnellites in the days of his first Administration. Lord Beaconsfield's Administration had also been grievously embarrassed and injured by obstruction, carried on by some men who now energetically condemn it. But Lord Beaconsfield was too much attached to the old ways to make any important innovation in the Rules. The evil grew worse, and changes had to be made. It even became necessary, on one meinorable occasion, for the Speaker to close a debate peremptorily, without any Rule of the House existing which could possibly justify him. He was, however, held to be amply justified by the House and by public opinion. But Mr. Gladstone, who thus suffered under obstruction, had previously desended it in articles and speeches; and whenever he has been out of office, he has never uttered a word or made a sign to repress it. Yet he has acknowledged that it is a great evil.