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state of the world be a despotic one, where discussion is not practised, where it is not understood, where the expressions of different speakers are not accurately weighed, where undue offence may easily be given.” This objection might be easily avoided by requiring that the discussion upon treaties in Parliament like that discussion in the American Senate should be “in secret session,” and that no report should be published of it. But I should, for my own part, be rather disposed to risk a public debate. Despotic nations now cannot understand England; it is to them an anomaly “chartered by Providence ;" they have been time out of mind puzzled by its institutions, vexed at its statesmen, and angry at its newspapers. A little more of such perplexity and such vexation does not seem to me a great evil. And if it be meant as it often is meant, that the whole truth as to treaties cannot be spoken out, I answer, that neither can the whole truth as to laws. All important laws affect large “ vested interests ;” they touch great sources of political strength; and these great interests require to be treated as delicately, and with as nice a manipulation of language, as the feelings of any foreign country. A Parliamentary Minister is a man trained by elaborate practice not to blurt out crude things, and an English Parliament is an assembly which particularly dislikes anything gauche or anything imprudent. They would still more dislike it if it hurt themselves and the country as well as the speaker.
I am, too, disposed to deny entirely that there can be any treaty for which adequate reasons cannot be given to the English people, which the English people ought to make. A great deal of the reticence of diplomacy had, I think history shows, much better be spoken out. The worst families are those in which the members never really speak their minds to one another; they maintain an atmosphere of unreality, and everyone always lives in an atmosphere of suppressed ill-feeling. It is the same with nations. The parties concerned would almost always be better for hearing the substantial reasons which induced the negotiators to make the treaty, and the negotiators would do their work much better, for half the ambiguities in treaties are caused by the negotiators not liking the fact or not taking the pains to put their own meaning distinctly before their own minds. And they would be obliged to make it plain if they had to defend it and argue on it before a great assembly.
Secondly, it may be objected to the change suggested that Parliament is not always sitting, and that if treaties required its assent, it might have to be sometimes summoned out of season, or the treaties would have to be delayed. And this is as far as it goes a just objection, but I do not imagine that it goes far. The great bulk of treaties could wait a little without harm, and in the very few cases when urgent haste is necessary, an Autumn session of Parliament could well be justified, for the occasion must be of grave and critical importance.
Thirdly, it may be said that if we required the consent of both Houses of Parliament to foreign treaties before they were valid we should much augment the power of the House of Lords. And this is also, I think, a just objection as far as it goes. The House of Lords, as it cannot turn out the Ministry for making treaties, has in no case a decisive weight in foreign policy, though its debates on them are often excellent; and there is a real danger at present in giving it such weight. They are not under the same guidance as the House of Commons. In the House of Commons, of necessity, the Ministry has a majority, and the majority will agree to the treaties the leaders have made if they fairly can. They will not be anxious to disagree with them. But the majority of the House of Lords may always be, and has lately been generally an opposition majority, and therefore the treaty may be submitted to critics exactly pledged to opposite views. It might be like submitting the design of an architect known to hold “mediæval principles” to a committee wedded to 6 classical principles."
Still, upon the whole, I think the augmentation of the power of the Peers might be risked without real fear of serious harm. Our present practice, as has been explained, only works because of the good sense of those by whom it is worked, and the new practice would have to rely on a similar good sense and practicality too. The House of Lords must deal with the assent to treaties as they do with the assent to laws; they must defer to the
voice of the country and the authority of the Commons even in cases where their own judgment might guide them otherwise. In very vital treaties probably, being Englishmen, they would be of the same mind as the rest of Englishmen. If in such cases they showed a reluctance to act as the people wished, they would have the same lesson taught them as on vital and exciting questions of domestic legislation, and the case is not so likely to happen, for on these internal and organic questions the interest and the feeling of the Peers is often presumably opposed to that of other classes—they may be anxious not to relinquish the very power which other classes are anxious to acquire; but in foreign policy there is no similar antagonism of interest—a peer and a non-peer have presumably in that matter the same interest and the same wishes.
Probably, if it were considered to be desirable to give to Parliament a more direct control over questions of foreign policy than it possesses now, the better way would be not to require a formal vote to the treaty clause by clause. This would entail too much time, and would lead to unnecessary changes in minor details. It would be enough to let the treaty be laid upon the table of both Houses, say for fourteen days, and to acquire validity unless objected to by one House or other before that interval had expired.
This is all which I think I need say on the domestic events which have changed, or suggested changes, in the English Constitution since this book was written. But there are also some foreign events which have illustrated it, and of these I should like to say a few words.
Naturally, the most striking of these illustrative changes comes from France. Since 1789 France has always been trying political experiments, from which others may profit much, though as yet she herself has profited little. She is now trying one singularly illustrative of the English Constitution. When the first edition of this book was published I had great difficulty in persuading many people that it was possible for a non-monarchical state, for the real chief of the practical Executive -the Premier as we should call him—to be nominated and to be removable by the vote of the National Assembly. The United States and its copies were the only present and familiar Republics, and in these the system was exactly opposite. The Executive was there appointed by the people as the Legislative was too. No conspicuous example of any other sort of Republic then existed. But now France has given an example—M. Thiers is (with one exception) just the chef du pouvoir exécutif that I endeavoured more than once in this book to describe. He is appointed by and is removable by the