HL Deb 17 April 1891 vol 352 cc779-81

In asking Her Majesty's Government whether they would lay upon the Table of the House Papers relating to the draft constitution agreed to by the Australian Convention, said: My Lords, I know that the Draft Bill for the Constitution agreed to by the Convention for the Australian Colonies has appeared in extenso in the newspapers, and it is for that reason, and because of the comments which have been made upon it in the Press, and in general conversation, that I think it would be most desirable that the noble Lord should, as soon as possible, give what I may call an authoritative correction of a very false impression which has become prevalent of the nature of this Bill, and which, for the great interests involved, requires information before the discussion of the Bill in the Imperial Parliament, and before its ratification by any of the individual Australian Colonies. It seems to be considered by many that the Bill shows an intentional departure from the Constitution of the Mother Country, and that its framers have preferred for its model the more democratic version of that Constitution, which a blunder in policy led our most powerful old colonies, now the United States, to adopt in actual separation from us. I believe that more authoritative information, and the presentation of Papers upon this subject, will show precisely the reverse, that the closest possible reproduction of the Home Constitution has been aimed at by the Australians as far as possible in a distant colony. The circumstances of a new and offset community are, of course, such as not to admit of an actual fac simile of the ancestral Constitution, but as far as they could adhere to it it seems to me they have. The double House of Legislature was at once adopted by the Convention, without any Debate whatever. This point, indeed, is universally agreed upon. It was long ago exhaustively discussed by the founders of our first great colonies, and the celebrated lessons drawn from their English experience, and recorded in the Federalist, have left no rational question as to the necessity, in the interests of freedom, of a Second Chamber in the Legislature to check the tyranny of sudden impulse or inconsiderate changes emanating from the single action of the first. That being conceded without any difficulty, and at once adopted, the principal Debate of the Convention was upon the status of their Senate and its composition, and I think it is clear, as far as we can gather from their Reports, there was a wise consensus that, in imitation of the House of Lords, the Senate should be as differently composed as possible from the Representative Assembly. The object clearly was, and wisely so, to make the two Chambers supplement each other, as the centripetal and centrifugal forces combine in mutual regulation, and to avoid anything like rivalry or conflict which might be caused by similarity of composition. The difficulty, of course, was in a new Assembly to make such a distinction. This old country has the enormous advantage of old-established and long-accustomed emanation of one of the Chambers from the Crown, and of the election of the people, or rather, I would say, the managers of the people, for the constitution of the other. There is a difficulty in that extent of distinction being imitated by a new community. The utmost they can do is to make two Chambers by as different kinds of election as possible. but no difference of election can completely succeed in constituting such an unconflicting partnership as we enjoy in the old country. The Australians seem, as far as possible, to have followed the example of the United States, which adopted, as far as they could, the model in this respect of the Constitution of the old country. I think the Australians in the Convention have shown an anxiety to keep their country within what I may call the popular Monarchy of the British realm, and avoid any appearance of separating themselves from it, or of substituting for themselves a pure Democracy. It is in the hope of this being made clear while the Bills for this purpose are still under discussion that I put the question; and as the subject will soon have to come before this House for discussion, it is desirable that there should be no prejudice from the American terms in the Bill. Therefore I beg to ask the noble Lord if he will furnish these Papers, and, if so, as soon as possible, for I think it is important that they should be presented at an early date?


My Lords, it is not the practice to present to Parliament unauthenticated newspaper reports of proceedings, however important, and at present the Colonial Office has only received, two or three days ago, two numbers of the Official Record of the Debates, and those two numbers carry the account of the proceedings only up to the third day. It would be very undesirable, nor do I imagine that the noble Lord would wish it, to present the Papers1 in an incomplete form, that is, giving each number of the Record as it comes over here. I propose, therefore, to wait until we have the whole of the Official Record. When complete, I see no objection, on the contrary, I see every reason, why the Papers should be presented to Parliament. The noble Lord asks me to give an authoritative statement as to the point which he has raised. I can conceive nothing more unwise than that the Secretary of State for the Colonies should give his view upon Debates which have recently taken place in Australia. I can give, however, if I may be allowed to do so, an" authoritative statement" of my opinion upon one point, and that is that every one who reads the Debates, even as they appear in the newspapers, must be sensible of the good commonsense judgment and ability with which the proceedings in the Convention have been conducted.