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4-410 (Raw)

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addressee,male author,male,Beach, Hicks,un
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Government English
Imperial Correspondence
Clark, 1975
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In his despatch of 27th December, 1878, Sir George Bowen informed me that the Legislative Assembly of Victoria had authorised Mr. Graham Berry, the Chief Secretary and Prime Minister, and Mr. Pearson, a member of the Assembly, to proceed to London as Commissioners or delegates, to solicit my advice and assistance, and to lay' before me the views on the political affairs of Victoria entertained by the majority of the Assembly; [...] Shortly after the arrival of Mr. Berry and Mr. Pearson in England, I received them at this office, and Mr. Berry then left with me the letter of which I enclose a copy.
The objects of their mission have since been fully discussed between us at several interviews, and I will now proceed to convey to you the opinion which Her Majesty's Government have form upon the important question at issue, after full consideration of the statements that have been placed before them on behalf of the Government and the Assembly of Victoria on the one side, and of the Council on the other.
The request urged by Mr. Berry in his letter of 26th February that Parliament should "by a simple alteration of the 60th section of the Constitution Act of Victoria, enable the Legislative Assembly to enact, in two distinct annual sessions,' with a general election intervening, any measure for the reform of the Constitution", is, in my opinion, even more open to objection than the proposal I understood him to convey in his memorandum of 6th August. [438]
But it is not necessary to discuss the merits of this or any other proposal, for though fully recognizing the confidence in the mother country evinced by the reference of so important a question for the counsel and aid of the Imperial Government, I still feel that the circumstances do not yet justify any Imperial legislation for the amendment of that Constitution Act by which self - government, in the form which Victoria desired, was conceded to her, and by which the power of amending the Constitution was expressly, and as an essential incident of self-government, vested in the colonial Legislature with the consent of the Crown. The intervention of the Imperial Parliament would not, in my opinion, be justifiable, except in an extreme emergency, and in compliance with the urgent desire of the people of the colony, when all available efforts on their part have been exhausted. But it would, even if thus justified, be attended with much difficulty and risk, and be in itself a matter for grave regret. It would be held to involve an admission that the great colony of Victoria was compelled to ask the Imperial Parliament to resume a power which, desiring to promote her welfare, and believing in her capacity for self-government, the Imperial Parliament had voluntarily surrendered; and that this request was made because the leaders of political parties, from a general want of the moderation and sagacity essential to the success of constitutional government, had failed to agree upon any compromise for enabling the business of the Colonial Parliament to be carried on.
It is nevertheless important that the question should be settled so soon as possible where it can be properly dealt with - that is, in the Colonial Parliament; and I shall be glad if, by the observations which I am about to make, I can remove some part of the misunderstanding which has been amongst the chief obstacles to such a settlement.
Following the generally accepted precedent, the Constitution Act of Victoria established two Legislative Chambers, the Council and the Assembly, and laid down to a certain extent their mutual relations - of which, it appears to me, a better definition, rather than an alteration, is now required. For as no party in Victoria desires to abolish the Council, I feel confident that there can be no wish in the words of your Ministers to "reduce it to a sham", or by depriving it of the powers which properly belong to a second Chamber, to confer on the Assembly a complete practical supremacy, uncontrolled even by that sense of sole responsibility which might exert a beneficial influence on the action of a single Chamber. Nor can I suppose that the extreme view of the position of the Council, which it has recently to a great extent itself disclaimed, can be supported by any who have sufficiently examined the subject.
The recent difference between the two Houses of Victoria, like the most serious of those which have preceded it, turned upon the ultimate control of finance. I observe that the address of the Legislative Assembly of the 14th February 1878, dwells almost exclusively on the necessity of securing to that House sufficient financial control to enable adequate supplies to be provided for the public service, and it is prominently urged in Mr. Berry's letter of 26th February, in proof of the necessity for finding some solution of the present constitutional difficulty, that "scarcely a year passes but it becomes a question whether the supplies necessary for the Queen's service will be granted". [439] But this difficulty would not arise if the two Houses of Victoria were guided in this matter, as in others, by the practice of the Imperial Parliament, the Council following the practice of the House of Lords, and the Assembly that of the House of Commons. The Assembly, like the House of Commons, would claim and in practice exercise the right of granting aids and supplies to the Crown, of limiting the matter, manner, measure, and time of such grants, and of so framing Bills of Supply that these rights should be maintained inviolate; and as it would refrain from annexing to a Bill of Aid or Supply any clause or clauses of a nature foreign to or different from the matter of such a Bill, so the Council would refrain from any steps so injurious to the public service as the rejection of an Appropriation Bill.
It would be well if the two Houses in Victoria, accepting the view which I have thus indicated of their mutual relations in this important part of the work, would maintain it in future by such a general understanding as would be most in harmony with the spirit of constitutional government. But, after all that has passed, it may be considered necessary to define those relations more closely than has been attempted here, and this might be effected either by adopting a joint standing order, as was proposed in 1867, or by legislation. Of these the former would seem to be the preferable course, for there might be no slight difficulty in framing a statute to declare the conditions under which one House of Parliament, in a colony having two Houses, should exercise or refrain from exercising the powers which, though conferred upon it, must not always be asserted. But I must add that the clearest definition of the relative position of the two Houses, however arrived at, would not suffice to prevent collisions, unless interpreted with that discretion and mutual forbearance which has been so often exemplified in the history of the Imperial Parliament.
If, however, it should be felt that the respective positions of the two Houses in matters of taxation and appropriation can only be defined by an amendment of the Constitution Act, there may be other points, such as a proposal to enact that a dissolution of Parliament shall apply to the Legislative Council as well as the Assembly, that might usefully be considered at the same time; but I refrain from discussing them now, feeling that their merits can best be appreciated in the Colony itself. [440]
It has been urged that some legislation is necessary to insure mechanically the termination, after reasonable discussion and delay, of a prolonged difference between the two Houses upon questions not connected with finance. I do not yet like to admit that the Council of Victoria will not, like similar bodies in other great colonies, without any such stringent measure, recognise its constitutional position, and so transact its business that the wishes of the people, as clearly and repeatedly expressed, should ultimately prevail; nor have I yet seen any suggestion for such legislation which I can deem free from objection.
I hope that the views I have expressed may not be without influence in securing such a mutual agreement between the two Houses as to remove any necessity for Imperial legislation, and that, as both parties profess to desire only what is reasonable, and as there has been now an interval for reflection, a satisfactory and enduring solution of the difficulty may be arrived at in the colony. The course of action which Her Majesty's Government might adopt, should this hope unfortunately be disappointed, must in a great degree depend upon the circumstances which may then exist; but I can hardly anticipate that the Imperial Parliament will consent to disturb, in any way, at the instance of House of the Colonial Legislature, the settlement embodied in the Constitution Act, unless the Council should refuse to concur with the Assembly in some reasonable proposal for regulating the future relations of the two Houses in financial matters in accordance with the high constitutional precedent to which I have referred, and should persist in such refusal after the proposals of the Assembly for that purpose, an appeal having beets made to the constituencies on the subject, have been ratified by the country, and again sent up by the Assembly for the consideration of the Council.