CHAPTER XIII: RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT.
[Image of page 358]
THE principle of Ministerial Responsibility, as applied to the government of our Colonies, is of modern date. During the infancy of a Colony, its form of government is that of an absolute Monarchy. The Governor is appointed by the Crown; and he is advised (though not bound to act on their advice) by a Council, also appointed by and responsible to the Crown: neither over the Executive or Legislative branches of the Government have the Colonists any effectual control. But when a Representative Constitution has been conferred upon them, the Colonists are not long satisfied to be governed by an Executive irresponsible to themselves; and having secured the power of making the laws, their next great object is to obtain the power of controlling their administration and execution. 1
[Image of page 359]
Before parliamentary, or "responsible," 2 government is established in a Colony, the representative of the Crown both reigns and governs: he fills up all appointments to vacant offices, determines upon the
[Image of page 360]
policy and measures of the Government, and his officers carry them into effect. He is entitled to command their advice, but he is not bound to act upon it; and in the exercise of his powers he is responsible to her Majesty alone. But when the principle of Ministerial Responsibility has been established, the Ministers themselves govern, and the Governor only reigns. Appointments are still, indeed, made in the name of the Governor, and all the executive acts are still nominally done by him; but it is as a passive instrument in their hands: the Governor's name now (vox et praeterea nihil) has ceased to be a tower of strength. Not only have the reins of government been transferred from the Governor to the Ministers, but the Colonists are now virtually recognised as the ultimate source of power; and the Ministers are no longer responsible to the Crown, but to the Colonial Parliament. The Governor, indeed, chooses and appoints the Ministers, and he may at any time change them: he has, however, but a limited range of choice. They must not only be Members, but they must enjoy the confidence, of the Colonial Legislature; and when they cease to do so, he cannot long retain them in their places. Having absolute control over the public funds, the Representative Body, by withholding the Supplies, can compel the Governor to dismiss the obnoxious Ministers. Such is the theory of "Responsible Government" in its most complete form. It rests, however, on no written law: nor have the respective powers of the head of the Executive in a Colony and the Ministry
[Image of page 361]
ever been defined. Even in England, where Parliamentary Government has been so long in operation, and so recently as the time of the late Sir Robert Peel, his acceptance of office was made to depend on the even then debated question, whether the personal attendants of the Sovereign (the Bedchamber women) should be appointed by the Minister or the Crown. 3 In our Colonial dependencies, where "Responsible Government" has been established, it has hardly yet been settled what is the position to be occupied by her Majesty's Representative: --whether he ought to occupy the place of the Sovereign, or some intermediate position between a Minister and a Monarch. In Canada, 4 where "Responsible Government" was first
[Image of page 362]
transplanted, the principle, from accidental causes, was speedily pushed to its utmost limits: during the illness of Governor Sir Charles Bagot, the Ministers gained absolute power, and not only claimed the whole patronage of the Government, but disputed with his successor the power of appointing his own personal Staff. It was at a very critical period that Lord Metcalfe was appointed Governor-General of Canada, and "the Hero of Civil life" could not bring himself to believe that he had been sent to the Canadian Provinces, in a time of difficulty and danger, simply to become the instrument of the Canadian Ministers. Less able men, however, have subsequently been content to occupy a position of "dignified neutrality." 5
[Image of page 363]
In the case of the Cape of Good Hope, the Committee of the Privy Council, to whom the subject of a Constitution for the Colony was referred, repeated their opinion that "Responsible Government" was altogether unsuited to the circumstances of that Colony; being a system "that can never work with advantage except in countries which have made such progress in wealth and population, that there are to be found in them a considerable number of persons who can devote a large portion of their time to public affairs:" and it was accordingly provided by the Cape Constitution that certain of the principal Officers of the Government should be entitled to a seat in the Legislature, and to take part in the debates, but without the power to vote; thus securing to the Government the means of being heard and represented in the Colonial Legislature.
In the United States, also, where the Head of the Executive is himself periodically elected by the popular voice, the principle of Ministerial Responsibility is altogether unknown--all responsibility being centred in the President himself, who is the sole depositary of Executive power. The American Ministers of State, and, indeed, all the Officers of the Executive Government, are appointed by, and are responsible to, the
[Image of page 364]
President alone; and instead of being members of Congress, responsible to Congress, they are expressly excluded by the Constitution from sitting in either House. The Officers of the Executive being prohibited by the Constitution from sitting in the Legislature, the President has no official organ to represent him in Congress; and his communications with the Legislature are necessarily conducted through the medium of messages alone.
So long as the Colonial form of Government continues to be that of an absolute Monarchy, the Governor has an arduous and harassing duty to perform: he is at all times, almost unavoidably, in a state of unpleasant relations with some portion of the community; and he is personally made the principal object of attack by the Colonial Press. In the ordinary discharge of his duty, he has frequently to thwart the projects of those who, regardless of the public interests, seek to promote their own aggrandizement; and even in the disposal of the patronage of the Government, he makes more enemies than friends; and, however popular he may have been at the commencement of his reign, he is soon surprised to find himself pursued with unrelenting malignity by a host of bitter enemies. Coarse and violent abuse is too common to have much weight; and even the most unscrupulous assertions are little heeded in the Colony itself, where the writer, his character and motives, are known and understood: 6 but the calumny
[Image of page 365]
may find its way to England, and, if read, may possibly be taken for a truth. A Colonial Governor has not only to see himself daily held up to public odium, and to bear the trying responsibility of a difficult command, but has his life constantly embittered by the apprehension of being suddenly recalled--with his reputation damaged, and all his hopes of professional advancement utterly destroyed; and it needs but some public Company or Colonial Agent in England, ever ready to undermine him in Downing-street, to fill up the measure of his uneasiness. No man who fears responsibility, and who has a reputation to lose, should seek to become the Governor of an infant Colony. But in the older Colonies, where Parliamentary Government has been established, the office of Governor has attractions both for the able and ambitious, as well as for those whose summum bonum is the dolce far niente. With the introduction of Ministerial Responsibility, his position is entirely changed. From the Baltic to the Bay of Naples the transition is not greater nor more agreeable. It is now understood that, like the Sovereign, the Governor can do no wrong; and all the sins of the Government are visited on his Ministers. Instead of making common cause against the Governor, the Colonists are now divided amongst themselves, and absorbed in party contests; and the Governor is glad to beat his spear
[Image of page 366]
into a pruning-hook. With both the Legislature and the Press he has ceased to be the subject of attack; and except, in courtly style, to chronicle his movements and laud the magnificence of his entertainments, he is rarely mentioned by the public prints. To a man of ability and experience, possessing the attributes of a practised statesman, it is no doubt a sufficiently trying position to be seated on the box, and with the leaders all astray and kicking over the traces, to see the whip and reins in the hands of a tyro mounted by his side. If unambitious, however, and content to occupy a position of "dignified neutrality," the Governor, where the principle is in full operation, now merely reigns, and no longer cares to govern: he declares his indifference (and frequently with much truth) both to measures and to men; and on a breakup in the Colonial Cabinet, he politely bows out the retiring Ministers, and receives their successors with a smile. To have been the reviler of the last Governor is now no longer the surest passport to Viceregal favour. Nor is the Queen's Representative now under the necessity of entertaining electioneering-agents and political partisans, but leaves it to his Ministers to give Parliamentary dinners to their political supporters, and to the miscellaneous members of the Colonial Legislature. He is given to hospitality, however: receives distinguished strangers, and draws around him the elite of the community; contentedly accepting it as his mission simply to do the honours of the State. He is seldom heard of in Downing-street; becomes a favourite with the Colonial Office;
[Image of page 367]
and, to the astonishment of his friends, finally achieves the reputation of a "model Governor." If, however, he be a man of experience, reputation, and acknowledged ability, he may still exercise the powers of government, and without its cares. Having satisfied his Ministers (ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute) of his real superiority, and yet that he does not seek for power, power is immediately thrust upon him, and he becomes their constant referee: his Ministers consult him on every occasion, and are unwilling to embark in measures of importance until they receive his approving fiat. They alone, however, appear upon the stage; they alone are responsible, and receive the praise or blame that may be due to the performance; and yet, unknown to the spectators, and it may be unconsciously to themselves, they may, after all, have been but puppets in the hands of the man behind the screen.
But the Governor of New Zealand, when the principle of Ministerial Responsibility has been but partially introduced, is in an unenviable and anomalous position. In the various forms of books, pamphlets, and Parliamentary Reports, no less than 20,000 8vo pages it is calculated have already been printed and published on the Colonization of the country: yet very little is generally known of the real condition, social and political, of its aboriginal Native Race--of their power and influence--and of the qualified character of their submission to British rule. No special provision was made for their government; and because, with few exceptions, they
[Image of page 368]
take no part in the exercise of the elective franchise, nor exercise any influence on party combinations, it appears to have been assumed that they could form no difficulty in conducting the Government of the country. Without imposing any limitation or restriction, and without securing adequate funds and providing any guarantee for the special government of the Native Race by the Representative of the Crown, it was at once declared by the Colonial Minister, in answer to the representations of the Colonial Legislature praying that the principle of Ministerial Responsibility might be established in the conduct of the Government, that, "Her Majesty's Government had no objection whatever to offer to the establishment of the system known as 'Responsible Government' in New Zealand;" and the Governor, then recently appointed to succeed Sir George Grey, left England with full authority to carry the principle into effect.
On his arrival in the Colony no one could have been more earnest than Governor Browne in his desire to see the Representative Constitution which has been conferred upon New Zealand carried out to the utmost limit of its development; but he had hardly completed the tour of the Islands before he was satisfied that the New Zealanders are not only an intelligent, warlike, and well armed, but a still unconquered race; more numerous by half than the Colonists themselves, and hardly inferior to them as consumers of British manufactures, and as contributors to the revenue and exports of the Colony;
[Image of page 369]
the acknowledged owners of the soil, jealous of their territorial rights, impatient of control, and by no means prepared to see themselves handed over to a Government composed of unknown individuals, not chosen by themselves and irresponsible to the Crown: and he soon discovered that her Majesty's Native subjects, and not the Colonists, were the only real "difficulty" in the government of New Zealand. 7
Convinced by personal observation that, with reference to the government of the Natives, the tranquillity of the country would be endangered by "change of opinions consequent on a change of advisers," Governor Browne, while undertaking in all matters under the control of the Assembly to be guided by the advice of Ministers responsible to the Assembly, found it necessary so far to limit the application of the principle of Ministerial Responsibility, as, with reference to the Native Race, and especially in the purchase of Native lands, to propose to retain in his own hands the direction of Native affairs. In proposing to retain to himself, however unwillingly, so large a share of the cares and responsibilities of the Government, Colonel Gore Browne was fortified by
[Image of page 370]
the opinions of the best informed persons in the country. He addressed a Circular communication to upwards of forty different persons in various parts of the Colony, of various political opinions, and of all ranks and conditions of life, but all having more than ordinary knowledge of the Native character, and of the temper of the Native mind, desiring their opinion: --Whether the management of Native affairs could be entrusted to a Ministry liable to be changed at frequent intervals upon political grounds? Or, whether the management of Native affairs, including the appointment of persons employed, and the disposal of funds sufficient for the purpose, should be reserved to her Majesty's Representative? The reasons assigned and the arguments made use of by those to whom the questions had been addressed were various; their conclusions, however, were all but unanimous. More than forty of the persons addressed gave a decided opinion that the management of Native affairs could not safely be left to a Ministry irresponsible to the Crown; and thought that the government of the Native Race should continue to be administered by the Queen's Representative; while two only, subject to qualification, arrived at a different conclusion. It was urged that the Natives of New Zealand, like Native Races in a similar condition, look more to the persons governing than to the principles on which the government is formed; that they value permanence and stability; and are sensitive on the point of being allowed to deal directly with the principal, rather
[Image of page 371]
than with subaltern officers of Government: that the general animus of the Colonists is not favourable to the race, and that it is not probable that the members of any Responsible Ministry will be especially acquainted with the Native habits and feelings, or will be personally known to, or respected by the Maories: that as any especial attention to Native rights and interests will be by no means popular, the Ministers will not be induced to give any personal influence amongst them; 8 and that being left to be dealt with by subordinates, the Chiefs will gradually secede from communication with the authorities,
[Image of page 372]
forming leagues and schemes in secret, of which the Government will have no cognizance. That they would thus become estranged, and that when they came to be feared and suspected, there would be the constant risk of the Governor being driven 9 by the Ministers to use the troops against them; and that the country would not be safe for six months after the question of peace and war had been entrusted to a Ministry, who had virtually the command of the Queen's troops, but who were themselves irresponsible to the Crown.
It was represented also that the Natives being very susceptible of personal attachment, if the officers employed in the Native department were to be ap-
[Image of page 373]
pointed and subject to removal by the Ministry for the time being, that few would remain in office long enough to obtain an influence over them: That a nation just emerging from barbarism cannot be advanced in the scale of social life by a mere negation of evil, and that a mere veto on the part of the Governor could only enable him to prevent injustice, but not to do good: That a Ministry chosen by and from the elected Representatives of the Europeans can have no claims to absolute authority over the Maori Race; and that while the Colonists claim for themselves self-government, Representative institutions, and irresponsible Ministry, they cannot in reason refuse to the Native Race that form of Government which they prefer: viz., that the management of their affairs should be left as heretofore in the hands of the Representative of the Crown. And that the just and generous course would be to ascertain what amount of annual Revenue is contributed by the Native Race; to pay into the General Treasury that proportion of the income which is due to works and objects in which both Races have a common interest; and to place the surplus at the disposal of the Governor for strictly Native purposes: thus placing the Native Race in the position of a distant Province paying to the General Government a certain portion of the Revenue, and retaining the remainder for its own local expenditure. Such were some of the reasons assigned for retaining still in the hands of her Majesty's Representative the immediate government of the Native Race.
[Image of page 374]
The course proposed to be taken by Colonel Gore Browne in retaining to the Governor the government of the native population, received the approval of her Majesty's authorities; but no permanent provision has been made for the efficient maintenance of this divided rule. Before Representative institutions are established in a Colony, her Majesty's Representative is, in reality, what his name imports -- the Governor. But when the principle of Ministerial Responsibility has been adopted, both power and responsibility are transferred to the Ministers; and the office of Governor, in the eyes of a semi-barbarous people, is liable to lose much of its dignity and importance. With the natives of New Zealand, especially, "fine feathers" by no means "make fine birds." It neither satisfies the masculine understanding of this sagacious people, nor is it their practice, to dress up a lay figure with feathers and red ochre, and then regard it as their king: the visible and vigorous exercise of power is absolutely necessary to sustain amongst them the character of a Chief. Few Governors, probably, will devote themselves, like Sir George Grey, to the study of the character and language of the Maori race; but a Governor who, by his friendly personal intercourse, and the even-handed justice of his rule, has gained their confidence and respect, if invested with the power and the means befitting the position of a Chief, may exercise almost unbounded influence on them; and, with the aid of a body of persons of character and social standing employed as Political Agents, would form a power in the country equivalent, for purposes of
[Image of page 375]
peace and order, to a regiment of the Queen's troops. 10 For a variety of useful purposes, indeed, a Governor without funds is little better than a Steamer without fuel or a Ship of war without guns. Yet, subject to a charge of 7,000l. a year for Native purposes, the Revenues of the Colony are at the disposal of a Legislature in which the Natives themselves are not immediately represented, and over which they have practically no control; while the Governor of the Colony can carry on the management of Native affairs on his own responsibility, and by means of officers appointed by himself, only so far as he may be supplied with funds by an annual vote of the Colonial Legislature. Power and responsibility are thus divided; and, having been more than half stripped of his power, the Governor of the Colony is still left with the full burthen of responsibility: for whatever theory or practice may provide in the Colony itself, the Governor for the time being will be held responsible by the
[Image of page 376]
British nation for the just government of the Native Race; and unless adequate means be secured to him, he will be in danger of finding, when too late, that he has been reduced to a condition of Egyptian bondage --condemned to make bricks without straw.
Nor has it been clearly defined, with reference to the government of the two Races, where the Governor's responsibility ends, and where that of the Ministers begins; and for any particular measure in which Native interests are concerned, it is frequently a matter of doubt with the Colonists themselves where the responsibility rests: indeed, nothing but the prudence, moderation, and good sense, of both the Governor and his Ministers in the practical adjustment of their official relations, can save the Colony from the evils of not only a divided, but of an uncertainly divided, rule. Of the actual value of the responsibility of Ministers themselves, as a safeguard against rashness, dishonesty, or injustice in the conduct of public affairs, the Colonists have probably never seriously set themselves to form an estimate. When a well paid office of honour and influence is held for life, subject to forfeiture for misbehaviour, the public have the best possible guarantee for the conduct of the holder; but when office is taken by him on the so-called responsible system, with the chance of being held but a few months, or at most but a year or two, the mere risk of losing it can have no great influence on his conduct. The so-called responsible Ministers may have been guilty of the most gross jobbery and corruption; they may have provoked by their rashness a war of
[Image of page 377]
Races, and involved the country in the horrors of a Civil war; but by the time the evil is brought to light, they have probably already returned to the obscurity of private life, and the community are without the shadow of a remedy. 11
It may be wise to anticipate the wishes of the people in the extension of political power; but the Colonists themselves had not so much as hinted a desire to have the principle of Ministerial Responsibility introduced into the very difficult government of New Zealand: and when the subject was mooted in the Assembly, the question involved principles which were altogether new to them. The movement, in fact, originated with two or three of the most active political leaders, and was entirely confined to the members of the popular branch of the Legislature: neither during the discussion of the subject in the House of Representatives, nor subsequently, did the Colonists themselves take any part. It is not improbable, however, that if the Petition of the House in favour of Responsible Government had been absolutely negatived by her Majesty's Government, the party leaders would have succeeded in inciting the Colonists to become so clamorous on the subject as to have ren-
[Image of page 378]
dered it difficult long to delay the concession. But there are not a few of the most intelligent amongst them, who regard the change which has been made in the principle on which the government of the Colony is conducted, as inconsiderate and premature: all are agreed that, whoever may be the depositaries of power, great tact, forbearance, and judgment must be used by those who exercise it. But whether, with its scanty European population, occupying numerous detached Settlements widely separated from each other, and surrounded by a powerful and independent Native Race but just emerging from a state of barbarism, New Zealand was in a condition to benefit by the introduction of a divided responsibility in the Government of the country, is now but an idle question; and the difficult problem, how best to harmonize the action of two different authorities in the Government of the same country, has still to receive its practical solution. However the respective duties of the Governor and the Responsible Ministers may be theoretically limited and defined, it may be received as a law, as constant in its operation as the law of gravitation, that the powers of the Governor on Native questions will constantly be liable to be limited and encroached upon by the popular Representatives; and that if the Governor is to hold his own, there will be a constant state of antagonism between the Representative of the Crown and the Ministers of the people. If the principle of Ministerial Responsibility in the Government of the Colony is to be anything but a name, it must extend to all questions in which the
[Image of page 379]
peace of the country is involved; though Native interests may be concerned. On the other hand, if the influence of the Governor is to be maintained amongst the Natives, he must have the power and the means of promoting their interests, so far as they are clearly separate and distinct from that of the European population, independently of, and uncontrolled by, the Ministers of the day. The natives of New Zealand ceded their independence, not to the English settlers, but confidingly to the justice and wisdom of the British Crown; and the British Government became morally responsible for their just and paternal government. They know little and they care less about a Responsible Ministry--here to-day and gone to-morrow: a Ministry whom they hardly know by name, and for whom they can have no respect; but they are disposed to yield obedience to the Representative of the Crown; and for that reason it is expedient for the interest of both Races, that the prestige of the Governor should be carefully maintained, and that his administrative powers--so far, at least, as Native interests are exclusively concerned--should be free and uncontrolled. However the principle of responsibility may be practically apportioned in the Colony itself between the Governor and his Ministers, the Governor alone is regarded by the people of Great Britain as the responsible Minister for the government of the Native Race; and it is neither politic, generous, nor just, to hold her Majesty's Representative responsible for promoting their welfare and advancement, and at the same time to withhold from him the necessary means.
[Image of page 380]
It is well known what great influence, during his lengthened administration of the affairs of New Zealand, Sir George Grey obtained amongst the Natives of New Zealand, and with what great ability that influence was exercised; but Sir George Grey could not have acquired that influence, nor could he have exercised it with so much advantage to the country at large, if his powers had been restricted, and if his prestige had been impaired by the control of a Board of Officers subordinate to himself.
Yet under all the difficulties arising out of the peculiar circumstances of the country the experiment of "Responsible Government" in New Zealand will bear comparison with that of the Australian Colonies, both as regards its practical success, and for the prudence, judgment, and moderation with which the change has been effected. The right man may not more frequently be found in the right place than under the old regime, nor may the country be in fact more ably governed; but henceforward political office can only be filled by Members of the Assembly: every New Zealand Colonist is now a possible Minister, Superintendent, or Member of the Colonial Parliament; and intending emigrants to New Zealand have at least the satisfaction of knowing, not only that the government of the country is substantially in the power of the Colonists themselves, but that there is not a single office in the State (that of the Governor alone excepted), to which all, without exception, may not equally aspire. And be the merits or demerits of the Constitution recently granted to New Zealand what
[Image of page 381]
they may, "to preserve and advance in the scale of civilization the Native inhabitants of these islands --to develop the resources of a country rich in all the elements of future national greatness--to be the pioneers for its Colonization by the Anglo-Saxon Race--to lay the foundation of its Religious, Political, and Social Institutions--to give laws to the present, and to influence the character of a future, generation--will hereafter be the rare duty and the noble privilege of the new-formed Parliament of New Zealand." 12