Prece- In 1807 a Bill to abolish reversions was passed by the House
of Commons, but failed to receive the sanction of the House of
Rever- Lords : whereupon, on August 10, just before the prorogation, the
sions. Commons agreed to an address, nem. con., that his Majesty would
be graciously pleased not to grant any office in reversion in any
part of the empire until six weeks after the commencement of the
next session of Parliament. To this request the king returned a
favourable answer. In the following session a new Bill to suspend
the granting of offices in reversion for a limited time was brought
in, and received the royal assent (48 Geo. III. c. 50). By two
subsequent Acts (50 Geo. III. c. 88, and 52, c. 40) the grant of
offices in reversion was suspended for a further period. But the
House of Lords, in 1814, continuing to oppose the permanent
abolition of reversions, ministers resisted a motion for an address
similar to that voted in 1807, asserting that 'its object was an
innovation of the constitution, and an exclusion of the House of
Lords from their share in the legislature,' which ' might place the
crown in a contradictory relation to each of the two Houses.' The
motion was accordingly negatived. w But in deference to public
opinion, and to repeated (though unsuccessful) motions on the sub-
ject, in both Houses, between the years 1815 and 1819, ministers
afterwards abstained from advising the grant of places in reversion,
and the exercise of this prerogative is now formally abandoned. 1
In 1836, on motion of Lord John Russell, then chancellor of
* Parl. Govt. p. 20. Jour. 1801-1820, p. 699. Sir R.
w Parl. D. v. 28, pp. 634, 792. Peel, in Rep. on Off 1 '. Salaries, Coin.
x Ib. v. 31, p. 881 ; v. 38, p. 1253 ; Pap. 1850, v. 15, p. 230.
v. 39, p. 386. Gen. Index Com.
IN MATTERS OF ADMINISTRATION. 423
the exchequer, the House of Commons passed an address to the Prece-
king, that he would be pleased to take steps for the effectual dis- c
couragement of Orange lodges, and generally of all secret societies. Orange
This led to the immediate formal dissolution of the great Orange lodges.
Society of the United Kingdom.? But it was afterwards re-estab-
lished, with a different set of rules. 2
On May 22, 1838, a resolution was carried against the govern- Negro ap-
ment, by a majority of three, in favour of the ' immediate ' termi- P rentlces -
nation of negro apprenticeship in the colonies.* The government
declined to take any action in carrying out this resolution, and
intimated their intention of opposing any Bill that might be intro
duced to give effect thereto : b whereupon the mover of the reso-
lution declined to take any further action in the matter for the time
being, but reserved his right to do so whenever he should think fit,
leaving the resolution meanwhile to speak for itself. c This induced
the government, on May 28, to submit to the House a motion that,
for certain alleged reasons, ' it is not advisable to adopt any pro-
ceeding for the purpose of giving effect to the resolution of May
22.' After a long debate, this motion was agreed to by a majority
of 72. d
On February 18, 1839, Mr. Duncombe presented a petition to Theatres
the House of Commons from the lessee, &c. of Drury Lane Theatre, * n Lent -
complaining of the restrictions imposed by the lord chamberlain
forbidding theatrical performances in the city of Westminster on
Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. He then proposed an
address to the Queen, that she would be pleased to direct the
removal of these restrictions. This was opposed by government,
and after a short debate, was negatived on division. However, on
February 28, Mr. Duncombe moved to resolve that, in the opinion
of the House, the continuance of these restrictions was objection-
able. Lord John Russell, on behalf of the government, deprecated
an attempt by the House to declare by a resolution in what manner
a discretionary power vested in an officer of the crown Rhoulcl be
performed ; but, notwithstanding, the resolution was agreed to on
division. 6 Subsequently Mr. Duncombe complained that this reso-
lution had been disregarded by government, and moved for corre-
spondence on the subject, which was granted/ He then proposed
(on March 11) a vote of censure on the Queen's ministers for
T Mir. of Parl. 1836, pp. 300, 340. 4218.
Ann. Reg-. 1836, p. 19. And see b Ib. pp. 4221, 4244.
post, p. 537. c Ib. p. 4324.
Hans. D. v. 186, pp. 856-887 ; d Ib. p. 4431.
v. 195, p. 506. Ib. 1839, p. 625.
a Mir. of Parl. 1838, pp. 4202- f Ib. p. 806.
424 THE ROYAL PREROGATIVE
assuming the responsibility of directing the lord chamberlain (who
was authorised by statute to regulate theatrical entertainments in
Westminster) to continue his obnoxious restrictions in manifest
disregard of the resolution of the House. In reply, Lord John
Russell justified the course he had pursued, declaring that, ' with
every respect for the resolutions of the House, he was far from
supposing that they could supersede the law of the realm, or dis-
pense with the prerogative of the crown.' The proposed vote of
censure he regarded as quite uncalled for. The proper course would
have been for the mover of the resolution to have followed it up
with an address to the crown, which, if agreed to by the House,
would have brought the matter under the notice of government,
and necessarily elicited a reply ; or he might have introduced a Bill
into the House to carry out the principle embodied in the resolu-
tion. His lordship added, that the general question of licensing
entertainments was under the consideration of government, and
that some change in the present arrangements might hereafter be
made. h After some further debate, the motion of censure was put
and negatived. Before the commencement of Lent in the ensuing
year, the lord chamberlain issued a new order, allowing all theatres
under his jurisdiction to be open during Lent, except on Ash
Wednesday and in Passion- week. An astronomical lecturer, here-
tofore in the habit of lecturing during Passion- week at the theatres,
petitioned the House, complaining that the new order prevented
the continuance of his lectures : whereupon Mr. Duncombe moved
an address to the Queen, that she would be pleased to direct that
' astronomical lectures ' should be exempted from the operation of
the new order. This motion, though opposed by the government,
was agreed to on a division. 1 But no answer to the address was
communicated to the House. Up to 1861, the theatres under the
jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain, which has been extended
by the Act 6 & 7 Viet. c. 68, to the whole metropolis, were
closed for dramatic performances during Passion- week. In conse-
quence, however, of strong representations from the managers of
the hardship inflicted on them by restrictions placed on no other
class of the community, the limitation clause as to Passion-week
has been since omitted, always excepting Good Friday ; and the
question of opening in that week is now left to the discretion of the
managers.^ At present, it is only on Sundays, Christmas Day, Ash
Wednesday, and Good Friday, that theatres and music halls are
' Mir. of Parl. 1839, p. 987. 84-39.
11 Ib. pp. 987, 988. J Kep. Com", on Theatrical Li-
1 II. 1840, pp. 2482-2485. And cences, Com. Pap. I860, v. 16, p.
ee T. S. Duncombe's Life, v. 2, pp. 299.
IN MATTERS OF ADMINISTRATION. 425
forbidden to be opened. k But as regards Ash Wednesday, the pro- Prece-
hibition is not strictly enforced. 1 dents.
On March 22, 1842, a series of resolutions were proposed in Admiralty
the House of Commons, by Sir Charles Napier, in favour of the Board,
selection of naval officers, instead of civilians, as members of the
Admiralty Board, and in favour of naval civil situations being
filled by professional men. Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister,
moved the previous question, and refused, as a minister of the
crown, to make any promise as to what he would do in the matter ;
because, he added, ' it must be reserved as the prerogative of the
crown, and I altogether protest against the House of Commons
laying any restrictions upon the exercise of the royal prerogative
with regard to any branch of the public service.' After some
further debate the previous question was put and negatived.
On May 30, 1850, on motion of Lord Ashley in the House Sunday
of Commons, an address to the Queen in favour of the total ces- |? b p r i"
sation of Sunday labour in the post-offices of the United Kingdom O ftj ce .
was agreed to. The ministry, though disapproving of the plan,
advised her Majesty to comply with the wishes of the House." [The
majority in favour of this address is said to have been obtained
owing to the absence at a court ball, of many members who would
have opposed it. ] Much public inconvenience resulted from this
decision ; accordingly, arrangements were entered into by newspaper
agents and others for a general delivery of mailable matter on
Sunday, which involved the employment of many extra hands on
that day. Whereupon, on July 9, the House passed another
address to a contrary effect, expressing an opinion in favour of
a partial delivery of letters and papers through the Post-office on
the Lord's Day. To this address her Majesty returned a favourable
On April 18, 1871, a private member of the House of Commons
moved a resolution condemning the employment of letter carriers
and rural messengers in the delivery of letters throughout the
United Kingdom on Sundays. The prime minister (Mr. Gladstone),
admitting that the adoption of this motion ' would demand obedi-
ence from the executive government,' moved an amendment in
favour of an official inquiry into the practicability of a further
reduction of Sunday labour in the service of the Post-office which
was accepted, and agreed to by the House, "i Whereupon a depart-
mental committee of enquiry was appointed, upon whose report
k Hans. D. v. 224, p. 469. n Ib. v. Ill, pp. 484, 980,
1 Ib. v. 209, p. 1022 ; v. 222, p. Ed. Rev. v. 120, p. 74.
1279. See further, L. T. v. 74, p. 2. P Hans. D. v. 112, pp. 1215, 1375.
m Hans. D. v. 61, pp. 1061-1070. And see v. 113, p. 1077.
See further on this subject, post. 1 Ib. v. 205, pp. 1259-1280.
pp. 534, 543.
THE ROYAL PREEOGATIVE
revised instructions were issued by the postmaster-general on the
subject. 1 "
On June 17, 1856, an address to the Queen, in relation to
education in Ireland, was passed by the House of Commons unex-
pectedly, and in opposition to the wishes of the government, by
whom it was considered as tending to the subversion of the system
of national education in operation in that country. By consent of
the government, an opportunity was afforded to the House to re-
consider the subject before the Queen's reply to the address should
be given ; 8 and a counter-resolution, expressing a decided opinion in
favour of the maintenance of the existing system of Irish edu-
cation, was agreed to.* In the course of the debate, Lord John
Russell commented on the embarrassment resulting from the rule
of the House permitting an address to be passed upon one deli-
beration ; and said that he had been quite prepared to move for the
rescinding of the vote, but was willing to accept the proposed reso-
lution as a satisfactory equivalent." On June 26 the Queen's reply
to the address was sent down. It expressed an earnest desire to
maintain the established system of education in Ireland, and a
readiness to give to the wishes and recommendations of the Com-
mons the consideration to which they were entitled. v
On June 27, 1856, an address to the Queen for the issue of
a royal commission to determine the site of the new National
Gallery was carried against ministers, and contrary to the wishes
of the principal leaders of the Opposition^ Whereupon the com-
mission was issued by the crown. x
In the session of 1860, upon the recommendation of the crown,
the sum of two million pounds was granted by Parliament towards
the construction of works for the defence of the royal dockyards
and arsenals, and of the ports of Dover and Portland, &c. The
entire cost of these fortifications, as originally estimated, was some-
what over five million pounds. But before they were completed
their estimated cost amounted to 7,460,000. Foremost in this
great scheme of national defence was the construction of fortifica-
tions at Spithead, a roadstead in the vicinity of Portsmouth. Under
the influence of the excitement occasioned by the news from
America of the contest between the ironclad war-vessels, the
Merrimac and the Monitor, the House of Commons, on April 4,
1862, resolved 'that it is expedient to suspend the construction of
the proposed forts at Spithead until the value of iron-roofed gun-
' Com. Pap. 1872, v. 30, p. 338.
Hans. D. v. 223, p. 1282.
Hans. D. v. 142, pp. IGGti, 1827.
1 Ib. pp. 1836, 1884.
u Ib. p. 1862.
T Ib. p. 1992.
" Ib. p. 2154.
Ib. v. 143, p. 510.
v. 171, pp. 261, 516.
Aud see ib.
IN MATTERS OP ADMINISTRATION. 427
boats, for the defence of our ports and roadsteads, shall have been Prece-
fully considered ; ' and that on a future day (named) the House dents,
would go into committee to consider of authorising the funds appro-
priated for the construction of forts to be expended in building
ironclad ships. (This committee, however, never sat, the order
respecting it being allowed to drop.) y Meanwhile, in deference
to the foregoing resolution, the government suspended the works
at Spithead, although they thus incurred a heavy expense in
indemnifying the contractors for losses sustained thereby. They
also referred the question to the consideration of the Defence
Commissioners, upon whose report they determined to suspend the
further prosecution of the works until the result of certain experi-
ments had been ascertained. 2 Adverting to the delay and expense
attending this course, Lord Palmerston (the prime minister) took
occasion to remark, ' that when the House of Commons takes into
its own hands administrative details, and takes them out of the
hands of the executive government, the probability is that such a
course will be attended with increased expense and diminished
efficiency.'* But as the Government had merely consented to defer
f o ra while and not to abandon the system of fortifications they had
decided upon in 1860, another resolution was proposed, on June 23,
1862, as an amendment to a motion for the grant of a further
sum in aid of the construction of fortifications : ' That considering
the changes and improvements now in progress affecting the science
of attack and defence, it is not at present expedient to proceed
with the construction of the proposed forts,' &c. ; ' and that in any
general system of national defence this House is of opinion that
the navy should be regarded as the arm on which the country must
mainly depend.' After some debate this amendment was with-
drawn, and the original motion put and agreed to. b
On August 9, 1867, upon a Bill to grant additional supply for
the fortifications, it was moved to resolve that it is inexpedient to
proceed further with these works, until sufficient experiments had
been made to test the principles upon which it was proposed to con-
struct them. The motion was withdrawn as the government under-
took that experiments should be made to test the efficiency of the
War Office plans. The result of these experiments was afterwards
y See Smith's Parl. Rememb. 1862, tion that ' it is not expedient to com-
p. 130. For change in the opinion mence at the present time building
of ths House in regard to iron-plated wooden ships which are to be castd
wooden ships, see debates on Mr. with iron armour-plates;' and Lord
I jindsay's motions, Feb. 26 and Mar. Palmerston's observations thereon, Ib.
12, 1863. v. 169, p. 1385. The motion was
* Hans. D. v. 167, pp. 879, 883. negatived.
Ib. v. 166, p. 1281. See debate b Hans. I), v. 167, pp. 907-964.
(Hans. D. v. 169, p. 1333) on a mo- c Ib. v. 189, p. 1289.
communicated to Parliament.* 1 Meanwhile another attempt was made,
on May 8, 1868, to induce the House of Commons to interfere to sus-
pend these works until after further enquiry, but it proved unsuccess-
ful. 6 But in 1869 an Act was passed granting a final sum to complete
works in progress of construction, and authorising the abandonment
of works already sanctioned by Parliament which had not been yet
commenced/ In 1882, after nearly the whole sum authorised to be
borrowed had been raised, the Fortification Acts were repealed, and
a small unexpended balance repaid to the National Debt Commis-
sioners in accordance with the provisions of 45 & 46 Viet. c. 72,
II. PRACTICE OF PARLIAMENT IN THE APPOINTMENT OF
SELECT COMMITTEES TO ENQUIRE INTO ADMINISTRA-
Select Of late years it has become a frequent practice in
mittees both Houses of Parliament to appoint select corn-
questions niittees to take evidence, and report upon important
public questions, upon which precise information is
needed, with a view to legislation^ It is also desirable,
and in accordance with constitutional practice, that se-
lect committees should be appointed, from time to time,
to examine into the constitution and management of
the various departments of state. h But Parliament is
sometimes invited to institute enquiries, by a select
committee, into matters which are strictly within the
province of the executive government to determine ; a
proceeding which tends to shift the labour and respon-
sibility of administrative functions more and more from
those to whom it properly belongs ; and to increase, in
equal proportion, the power and influence of the House
of Commons in details of government. 1 Committees of
* Hans. D. v. 193, p. 1428. 1613. And see post, v. 2.
e 76. v. 191, p. 2021 ; and v. 193, ' See the objections taken to the
pp. 1426-1439. appointment of a committee of en-
1 Act 82 & 33 Viet. c. 76; and quiry into the existence and best
Hans. D. v. 203, p. 1311. means of suppressing unlawful com-
Hans. 1). v. 214, p. 1116. binations in Ireland, which neverthe-
h Mr. Gladstone, Ib. v. 203, p. less was agreed to. But the order
IN MATTERS OF ADMINISTRATION. 429
enquiry, however, ought not to be appointed to con- Select
sider questions of principle, upon which the House has
not yet agreed to legislate. Such questions should be
reserved for discussion by the House itself. It is only
when a question is open, that it is suitable for enquiry
by a select committee.*
When restricted in their enquiries within constitu-
tional limits, k select committees are often very service-
able, in bringing members to a common agreement upon
great public questions upon which legislation, founded
upon an impartial investigation of facts, is necessary.
Nothing is more remarkable than the tender forbearance with
which the House of Commons treats its own select committees ;
though, if their proceedings were strictly canvassed, there are
perhaps few parts of our system of government which can less sup-
port criticism. As a means of enquiry and investigation, they are of
the highest value, and they are constantly carrying on, with great
success, the political education of Parliament and of the nation :
but when they strain at executive authority they generally fail, nor
can their judicial impartiality (except in peculiar cases) be entirely
relied on. 1
Such committees are usually appointed either at the
suggestion or with the direct approval of the govern-
ment, and are composed of a fair proportion of leading
men from both sides of the House, including members
of the existing and of former administrations, in order
that, as a general rule, the balance of parties may be
maintained, and the feeling of the House represented
thereon. In the appointment of select committees, it
of reference was afterwards dis- k See Mr. Disraeli, on this point,
charged, and another order substi- in Hans. D. v. 161, pp. 1866-
tuted, more in accordance with con- 1868 ; by Mr. Cobden, Ib. v. 176, p.
stitutional precedent. See Com. J. 1908 ; by Mr. Lowe, Ib, v. 182, p.
1871, pp. 66, 73. In regard to the 158.
appointment of committees of en- * Ed. Rev. v. 108, p. 290. For a
quiry into misconduct or abuses in humorous description of the manner
ministerial departments, see post, v. 2. in which such committees are some-
J Mr. Forster and Sir M. H.- times organised, extracted from the
Beach, Hans. D. v. 233, pp. 1753, Sat, Rev., see Fischel. p. 470.
1825. - Hans. D. v. 202,'p. 596.
430 THE ROYAL PREROGATIVE
usa g e tnati a majority of one should be given to
mittees that side which possesses the majority in the House
itself. But it is not customary ' that minute attention
should be paid to the representation of the three king-
doms.' 11 Men should be selected to serve on public
committees who, from their abilities, experience, or the
special interests they represent, are peculiarly qualified
for such service.
Very few committees are appointed without a conference between
their principal promoters and the government. If intended to in-
vestigate matters of great importance, the leaders of different parties
in the House should also be consulted by the mover, before he selects
the members to serve thereon. The names of the proposed com-
mitteemen are usually arranged in friendly conversation out of the
House, and with the assistance of 'the whips' on both sides. If
this cannot be done, the House must decide, in some impartial
manner, of whom the committee shall consist. 1 * When the conduct
of a minister or other official is in question, the government should
take as little part as possible in the matter, and in the nomination
of the committee should be guided by the general feelings of the
House.i And when the character of a member of the House is
concerned in the proposed enquiry, it is customary for the committee
to be selected through the intervention of an intermediate body. 1 "
As a rule, * strong partisans on each side are knowingly
and advisedly chosen, in order that truth might be
elicited from the conflict of opposite and, it might be,
interested opinions. If such committees consisted wholly
of impartial men, their investigations would be most
After taking evidence from every available source,
Mr. Gladstone, Hans. D. v. 199, 216, p. 1449.
p. 795; v. 204, p. 1112; v. 206, p. Sec*. Sir G. 0. Lewis, Hans. D.
1117 ; v. 209, p. 1120. v. 162, p. 1012; and see Ib. v. 187,
Ib. v. 195, p. 124. p. 1364. But in 1872 it was con-
p Disraeli, Hans. D. v. 137, pp. eidered desirable to exclude any
1613, 1620, 1691. Ib. v. 187, p. direct representation of railway com-
1498; v. 2^7, p. 2018; v. 234, p. panies upon a Sel. Com 8 , which had
187. to enquire into the subject of the
q Gladstone, Ib. v. 216, p. 1214. Amalgamation of Railway Com-
r Hana. D. v. 123, p. 751. Ib. v. panies. Ib. v. 209, p. 944.
IN MATTERS OP ADMINISTRATION. 431
the committee reports the same to the House, generally Select
with observations embodying practical suggestions,
which they submit for the consideration of the govern-
ment. It then becomes the duty of the administration
to consider these propositions, to subject them in turn
to careful scrutiny and, if necessary, to appoint either
a royal commission, or a departmental committee of
their own, to make further enquiries in order to enable
the government to decide, upon their own responsi-
bility,* to what extent, and in what way, the proposed
reforms can be carried out, in conformity with the
general principles upon which the public service is con-
As a general rule, it is not customary to submit to Result of
1, TT f 4.1, f their en-
tne House motions lor concurrence in the reports of quiries.
such select committees, or any other resolutions founded
thereupon. It is usual to leave with the government
the initiation of any measures, be they legislative or ad-
ministrative, that may be required to carry out the
recommendations of a public committee/ Sometimes,
however, a member of the committee (usually the chair-
-man) submits to the House an abstract resolution on
the matter either in the same, w or in some succeeding
session,* in order to enforce the recommendations of the
committee, or to elicit the views of the House upon the
In illustration of the principles upon which it is