Page images
PDF
EPUB

- Report on the Senatus Consultum. [227 The objection has been made that dependence of Ministers on the Emperor and their responsibility before the Chambers were incompatible, and that no good reason could be assigned for introducing the two enactments into the same article. By former Constitutions the person of the Sovereign was declared to be above all responsibility, but that legal fiction had been set aside by the Emperor, who considered himself responsible to the nation, and therefore Article 13 of the Constitution declared, The Ministers only depend on the head of the State, they are responsible only for what concerns each individually in the affairs of the Government, and there is no conjoint responsibility among them. The Emperor, consequently, was alone to be accountable for what was done, and the Ministers could only be called on to answer each for his own special acts. It is that state of things which the Senatus Consultum desires to put an end to, so that the members of the Cabinet shall be responsible for their acts, not alone individually, but collectively. That is the only innovation introduced by the Article-namely, to enlarge their sphere of responsibility, and to make it collective. The position of the Sovereign remains what it was, and the committee thought that the wording of the article ought to continue unchanged, as it clearly defined the real state of things. Article 3 states that the Ministers can be members of the Senate or of the Legislative Body; they can take their seats in either assembly, and have a right to be heard when they consider such a course advisable. In admitting Ministers to the Legislative Chamber, this disposition establishes between the Government and the Assembly more immediate relations. It allows of rapid explanations given in the bureaux of a nature to expedite business, and prevents the rise of difficulties acknowledged at a later period to be of no value. On the other hand, it completes the political responsibility of Ministers before the Chamber, in placing them constantly in presence of the Opposition there to be found. These last cannot legitimately attack the Ministerial policy, except on condition of being ready to substitute some other in its place, and to take in their turn the direction of affairs. Such is one of the aspects of a Parliamentary government. Some persons find a danger in this sort of competition, and in the share that may be taken by personal ambition and the intrigue of political passions. But these things subsist even when legal dispositions appear to interdict them, only they have an irregular issue. Free Governments should be allowed to follow their natural course. In refusing a place to the Constitutional Opposition we give a wider scope to subversive passions. We become, without intending it, their accomplices, and with them we compromise the sovereign interest of human societiescivilization. Your committee is unanimous in proposing to you the adoption of Article 3. In the wording they ask you to substitute for the phrase. When they consider this other one, "All the times they consider. This unimportant modification has been suggested by the recollection of disputes that arose about the precise sense of the old wording. Article 4, relating to the sittings of the Senate

,

a

and their publicity, had not met with any objections. The publicity of the sittings would only add to the favourable impression already produced by the publication of the debates in the Official Journal, and the authority of the decisions arrived at would disseminate in the country additional elements of confidence and stability. Article 5 declares that the Senate can, on indicating the modifications of which any Bill before it appears to be susceptible, send the measure back to the Legislative Body for a new deliberation; it can, in every case, by a resolution with reasons assigned, oppose the promulgation of a Bill. The article so worded in reality contains only one innovation, expressed by these words, 'in every case,' forming part of the second paragraph. At present the Senate can only oppose the promulgation of a law under the circumstances determined by Article 1 of the Senatus Consultum of the 14th March, 1867. That right is now generalized. In presence of all the legitimate extensions given to the powers of the Legislative Body this is the only one conferred on the Upper Chamber. In the existing legislation it had the faculty of postponing the Bill to a following session ; but if the measure was then again presented it was bound to order the promulgation, unless the law contained some provision contrary to general principles, and the application of which was left to its judgment. In the new situation it will have, in every case, the right not only to ask for modifications of a Bill, but, further, to reject it. This faculty has been treated as a very considerable one, and as giving this Chamber too great an authority The alarms which represent the Senate as stopping the passage of Bills, and placing itself at every instant in opposition to the wishes of the nation, are vain. Assemblies have no such power. At present, more than ever, they have no authority unless they are supported by public opinion. The Senate has more necessity than any other body for that sustenance: its mission is to appeal to reflection. The exercise of the absolute right of rejection conferred upon it ought to be, and will be, very rare. Should that course be adopted, the reason will be that, far from proceeding against the movement of the general sentiment, the Senate will then feel by its side a strong pressure of public opinion. As to the conflicts to be dreaded, the provision does not, therefore, possess the importance attributed to it, but it has a great one from another point of view. Ordinary reason does not admit a deliberation and discussion without result. A body like the Senate, which debates and resolves without having the ultimate right of pronouncing an effective 'No,' loses at the same time the respect and even the attention of the public. Supposing it never made use of that ultima ratio, it ought to be possessed of the faculty. In this country of logic that condition is indispensable to the moral authority and the dignity of any assembly whatever. But, it is said, the Senate thus becomes a legislative body partially. The Upper Chamber remains what it ought to be-a power of control, of temporization, and of moderation. It does not possess the

a

initiative of laws, it can do nothing, nor introduce any thing of its own authority; it can advise, delay, suspend ;—that is the mission of all assemblies which in free governments occupy a situation analogous to its own. But to fulfil that duty, to respond to the utility justly expected from it, more than any other, it requires a moral ascendency-prestige, we might almost say—and any thing which tends to confer that quality is of advantage for the prudent conduct and profitable deliberation of the great affairs of the country. On this article two amendments were presented, one by M. Bonjean,. and the other by Count de Sartiges. The first proposed to confer upon the Senate the right of initiating laws; to institute a joint committee of fifteen members of each Chamber to consider any question upon which a dissidence may have arisen ; to enable either Assembly to suggest modifications in the Constitution, and to fix the number of the Senate at double that of the departments, the one half to be nominated by the Emperor for life, and the other to be elected for six years by the Councils-General. The second was to the effect that in the case of the Legislative Body after a second deliberation not being able to agree to the alterations suggested by the Senate to a Bill, the two Chambers shall vote simultaneously on the question of the promulgation of the law; a collective majority equal to two-thirds of the whole number of votes in the two Houses to be decisive. The committee considers that M. Bonjean's amendment contains two principles, the first of which is the complete assimilation of the attributes of the Senate to those of the Legislative Body; and the second, a change in the mode of nominating the Senators. With regard to the former, the committee unhesitatingly reject it, as being entirely in opposition to the whole spirit of the Constitution, and, in fact, an alteration in the fundamental pact which is not within the competence of a Senatus Consultum. As to the second, it was found to be equally unacceptable, both in principle and the means of execution suggested. The idea of the author was to increase the importance of the Senate as much as possible, and with that view not only does he desire similar attributions for the two Chambers, but to make their origin as analogous as possible. Such a result is by no means desirable. By the side of a political body receiving a lively impulse from public opinion, and in some sort reflecting the generous impatience of the nation, a necessity exists for a power, calmer because it is more durable, more reserved because it has less initiative, and less disposed to change than to stability. In a monarchical State the choice of the Sovereign, accompanied by the principle of inheritance or of immovability, has seemed the most simple means of constituting this moderating Chamber. And if any proof were wanting of the wisdom of the existing institution, it would be furnished by the difficulty the author of the amendment experiences in projecting a plan for adopting the contrary principle. He recommends that the half of the senators should be chosen by the Councils-General. But the very first effect of that measure would be to pervert the

mission of those bodies. Forming thus an electoral college, they would cease to be nominated with a view to departmental interests, which would become only a secondary matter. Considering all these reasons, and moreover the antagonism which might be produced in the Senate itself between the two different classes of its members, your committee were unanimous in rejecting the amendment. In reference to that of Count de Sartiges, the object of which was to establish a means of settling a disagreement between the two Chambers, it was evidently inspired by a spirit of conciliation ; but the means of carrying it into execution would raise many objections and have one capital defect--they would not avoid contradiction, but prolong it. Why go to foreign countries to

. seek for complicated forms which are the results of special manners? The Senate is at present in a better position to avoid the dangers of these conflicts, of which exaggerated fears are entertained, and it will never forget that the country has the right to count upon its prudence. The graver the circumstances may be the more caution will it exhibit in the exercise of a right the imprudent use of which would be incontestably perilous. These amendments having been set aside, the committee examined the text of the article. On the second paragraph, M. Boinvilliers proposed to omit the words with reasons assigned,' and as many difficulties would naturally attend compliance with this requirement, and as in a public discussion the motives for the rejection are manifested in the debates, his views were adopted. The committee propose to add the following paragraph, The Bill of which the Senate opposes promulgation cannot be again presented in the Legislative Body in the course of the same session. The object of this clause is to avoid an immediate

' contradiction of a decision of the Senate, which fact could only result in producing ill-feeling between the great powers of the State. Article 6 accords to the Legislative Body the privilege of fixing its own regulations and of naming its President, VicePresidents, and Secretaries. Baron Brenner had proposed as an amendment that the elections of the President should be submitted to the Emperor for approval, but the committee was of opinion that the article, as it stood, conferred a larger power on the Chamber, and accordingly retained the original wording. Article 7 grants the right of interpellation to every member and that of voting orders of the day, with reasons assigned, but requires the latter to be referred to the bureaux, if demanded by the Government. The committee propose to add the words, “The bureaux name a committee, on the summary report of which the Legislative Body pronounces.' Some members had proposed the re-establishment of the Address, but the committee considered that the practice was little in harmony with a system which permits every member to interpellate the Government and to demand explanations, and had no hesitation in rejecting the amendments. Article 8 requiring amendments to be sent to a committee and communicated to the Government, and in case the latter does not accept them, neces.

[ocr errors]

sitating their being laid before the Council of State, the committee propose to insert the words, 'when the Government and the committee do not agree,' before the reference to the Council of State. The reason for so doing was that the Council ought not to be placed in the position of being consulted on a matter after the Government had expressed a decided opinion upon it. Article 9 orders the Budget of Expenses to be presented to the Chambers of Chapters and Articles, and the estimates of each Ministry to be voted by Chapters, in conformity with the nomenclature annexed to the Senatus Consultum. No objection whatever has been made against this article. Article 10, in like manner, was fully approved. It declares that for the future all international treaties concerning commerce or customs shall be submitted to the Chambers. Article 11 fixes the relations of the Senate, Legislative Body, and Council of State with the Emperor and among themselves by Imperial decree. The committee propose to alter it as follows, “The relations, as fixed by the regulations between the Senate and the Legislative Body, and with the Emperor's Government, are fixed by Imperial decree. The constitutional relations between the several Powers are fixed by a Senatus Consultum. The Imperial decree which had hitherto regulated these relations was so clearly unconstitutional, that a Senatus Consultum was necessary in 1852 to delegate the power to the Emperor, but the committee consider that the time has now arrived to return to principles, and re-establish the authority of the Senatus Consultum in this order of decisions. Article 12, abrogating all enactments contrary to the provisions of the present Senatus Consultum, was at once agreed to. M. Michel Chevalier had proposed that a special Senatus Consultum should permit publicity for the discussion now about to open; but the committee refused to accept the amendment: first, because the hall of meeting could not be got ready in time, and next, because there seemed no absolute necessity for such an innovation, after sixteen years passed without any inconvenience under a different system. A member of the committee had proposed to decide that the Government should be obliged to choose the Mayor from among the persons forming the Municipal Council. The committee refused to accede to the motion, considering that the Mayor had divers functions, as not only head of the municipal authority, but representative of the Government. In such a case the committee was of opinion that the central power ought to have full latitude of choice. To sum up, Messieurs les Sénateurs, the committee, although on several questions different opinions have been manifested and maintained by some members, now unanimously proposes to you to join in the initiative of the Emperor. We await with confidence the honest execution of these new resolutions, as well as that of all the measures announced in the exposé des motifs presented by the Government. This Senatus Consultum will have an inevitable influence on the destinies of the country; it is one of the acts that mark their date in the history of a nation. The initiative of laws, rights of

a

« PreviousContinue »