After reading this article you will learn about the idea of a social parliament.
The State is the one and only form of legal organization, and the only vehicle of legal action. The State is only the agent of law, but it is also the only agent of law; and whenever a legal question arises in any field whatsoever, or a legal rule has to be made on anything whatsoever, it is the State alone which acts and which alone can make the rule.
A question, however, has been raised whether there ought not to be some central organization of Society: some social parliament, or even some general system of social parliaments, which might be added to the political parliament of the State, and might stand by its side in some sort of relation, whether subordinate and advisory or co-ordinate and concurrent.
Hitherto (so the argument runs) there has been only a single mirror—the political mirror—the political parliament which reflects, or as we say ‘represents’, the legal association as such: ought we not also to have another mirror, or even a set of other mirrors, reflecting some one great aspect of Society as such, or even several of its different aspects?
The suggestion most commonly made is of a single social mirror, an economic council (or economic ‘parliament’, or economic ‘sub-parliament’) reflecting the one great aspect of Society implied in the adjective ‘economic’. That suggestion acquired vogue, and even seemed likely to be translated into fact, at the close of the war of 1914-18.
In Great Britain an industrial conference, convened by the Prime Minister in 1919, proposed the institution of a National Industrial Council, to be elected by the workers and employers in each industry separately, and to be vested with the general power of advising the Government on industrial legislation.
The proposal, however, was left in abeyance and Great Britain has remained content with a single political parliament. On the Continent more was attempted, but little, in the issue, achieved. Germany instituted in 1920 a National Economic Council, by the side of the Reichstag, for the purpose of advising the Government on social and economic legislation; but the Council soon dissolved into committees which advised the Government directly, and eventually even the committees ceased to be asked for advice.
France instituted in 1926 a National Economic Council, which (after 1936) included 173 members representing economic groups and interests, to study economic problems, to report on them to the Government, and to advise the Government on all economic measures proposed in Parliament.
In a different setting the French Economic Council still remains, and its powers have been confirmed and expanded by the new French Constitution of 1946; but it is not clear that it plays any role of importance, or that it has relieved the political Parliament of any part of its burden.
Italy, under its Fascist regime, instituted from 1930 onwards a National Council of Corporations, containing representatives of employers and employed and empowered ‘to formulate rules for the general co-ordination of the national economy’.
The National Council of Corporations stood by the side of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies (with the latter of which it was eventually merged in 1938), but like so much else in Italian Fascism it served rather as a theatrical property than as an actual institution.
If, as has just been said, Great Britain has in practice remained content with a political Parliament, the idea of a social parliament has continued to be mooted among us in theory. The Guild Socialists, in the early years of the century, advocated the institution of two parliaments—an economic parliament, based on guilds, for economic affairs, and a political parliament, based on local constituencies, for the business of the State.
In 1920 the Webbs, in a work entitled A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, similarly advocated a plurality of parliaments. Pleading the hypertrophy of a single parliament and—even more—its ‘vicious mixture’ of functions separate in their nature, they suggested that the old political parliament should henceforth be confined to its proper and original functions of the conduct of external relations and the maintenance of internal law and order.
A new social parliament, they proposed, should then be instituted by its side to take over the more modern functions of the management of social policy and the general development of a ‘way of life’ or ‘type of civilization’. In their ingenious and carefully constructed scheme of parliamentary dyarchy both of these parliaments were to be elected (though not simultaneously, or by the same method) on the basis of geographical constituencies.
Both were to cooperate by a system of joint committees; and in the event of a clash a joint session of both was to make the final decision. But as the control of the budget and the power of the purse were to be vested in the social parliament, it would appear that the social parliament was to be the greater of the two.
This was an extreme and dubious plan—the more so as it was never made clear how the maintenance of law, entrusted to the political parliament, could be divided from the management of social policy (and from all the making and maintenance of law involved in that management) which was assigned to the social parliament.
Dr. Temple, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, was at once more moderate and more extreme in the proposals he made in 1928 in a work on Christianity and the State. Pleading the example of the National Assembly of the Church of England (an ecclesiastical parliament competent, under its enabling act of 1919, to deliberate on and make provision for all matters concerning the Church, subject to the consent of both Houses of Parliament in such matters as by the law of the land require parliamentary sanction), he proposed, in addition, (1) an industrial parliament, based on voluntary associations, which should legislate in its own department subject to the veto of the political parliament, and (2) an educational parliament, based on voluntary bodies of teachers and also on local education authorities, which should legislate in its own sphere ‘subject’, as he wrote, ‘in one way or another to parliamentary veto’.
This was consequently a proposal for what may be called a set of social parliaments—an ecclesiastical, an industrial, and an educational parliament. In that sense it went beyond the proposal of the Webbs. But Dr. Temple also suggested that the political parliament should impose a limit or veto on the acts of these several social parliaments, and in this respect his proposal was more moderate than that of the Webbs.
Mr. Churchill, in a Romanes lecture delivered at Oxford in 1930, confined himself to industry, and followed in the track of the policy proposed by the industrial conference of 1919. He suggested a House of Industry (but a House on a different level of power from the two existing Houses of Parliament) empowered to prepare and recommend solutions of industrial problems.
This would be an advisory body—parallel, let us say, to the French advisory Economic Council. Of late Mr. Amery, in his Thoughts on the Constitution of the year 1947, has adopted and expanded Mr. Churchill’s suggestion. Pleading, like Dr. Temple, the analogy of the functions and powers of the National Assembly of the Church of England, he proposes a third ‘House’, or ‘sub-parliament’, which might frame measures altering or amplifying Acts of Parliament, subject to the consent of the two existing Houses.
This third House would be based on trade unions and employers’ associations, “possibly with the addition of representatives of consumers nominated by the Government. It would have the advantage, he argues, of enabling the new principle of ‘functional’ representation to be tried without destroying the existing geographical principle.
There is here a variety of counselors, and a multiplicity of counsels. In structure, most of the counselors suggest a social parliament of a new type, based on the functional principle, and representing vocations: the Webbs are perhaps alone in arguing for a social parliament based, like the political, on the principle of local or geographical constituencies.
In function, some would vest the social parliament only with the power of advising the political parliament or, alternatively, the executive government: the Webbs, however, would make it a concurrent or even a superior legislature; others, again, would attempt a via media and give to the social parliament the position of a subordinate legislature, competent indeed to enact laws but only with the assent of the political parliament.
On one issue all would seem to be agreed. They would all institute the social parliament— whatever the basis of its composition, or whatever the extent of its function—by an act of State and by way of a formal amendment of the constitution.
They do not consider the possibility that a social parliament may possibly be evolved by an act of Society; that it may, as it were, grow of itself; that it may begin and end in Society, as a purely social organ, simply and solely expressive of social opinions and aspirations.
Nothing need here be said, at any rate for the moment, about the composition of a social parliament. There is a prior question of greater importance—that of its powers. Should it have the powers of a concurrent parliament, or should it have only advisory powers? The first alternative has commended itself to a succession of thinkers, which began with the Guild Socialists, was continued by the Webbs, and may still be traced in the theories and suggestions of Dr. Temple and Mr. Amery.
The basis of this first alternative is the policy of functional devolution: the policy of sorting out and separating functions at present combined (or, as the argument goes, ‘viciously mixed’) in a single parliament, and of remitting some of the functions so sorted out and separated to a new body or bodies. Such a policy raises a grave but also simple issue.
What would be left to the old ‘political’ parliament, if a system were adopted of functional devolution upon another ‘social’ parliament or set of ‘social’ parliaments? It is possible to answer that question by saying that law would remain: that though economics and education (the general management of social policy and the general development of a ‘way of life’ or ‘type of civilization’) would be lost to the political parliament, the maintenance of law (along with the conduct of external relations and the control of a system of defence) would be left. But what is law?
Law is not a separate or separable set of things in an isolated compartment. It is, a general mode of action. It is a mode of dealing, by uniform rules, with things in general—with things economic and educational, and with all other sorts and sets of things which are capable of being brought under and regulated by a uniform rule or system of rules.
Law, in a word, is a general mode of action which ranges over all places where a uniform rule is possible, and which touches, as it ranges, every sort of thing; but if it is general it is also single, and must proceed from a single source. Being general, and ranging everywhere, it ranges over the field of economics. One cannot distinguish law from economics, or say that law belongs to one sort of parliament and economics to another.
Being, on the other hand, a single mode, law has a single organ for its making or declaration. The State, in the shape of the political parliament through which it acts, is the only organ and maker of law. The State, on the theory here assumed, is only a legal association; but, by the same token, it is also the only legal association. Because it is that, its political parliament is the one adjustment-centre.
There cannot be a plurality of adjustment-centres. If there were, they would themselves need to be adjusted. There must be someone, single, final adjustment- centre; and that adjustment-centre is necessarily compelled by its nature not only to adjust finally all sovereign issues (issues, that is to say, which demand the exercise of sovereignty), but also to take the initiative in formulating their adjustment.
A magnetic attraction draws such issues directly to the one final authority. Men will always seek to go straight to it, and the institution of other instances will not defeat or deflect the attraction. That attraction will be especially strong in the field of economics. Economic issues, in these troubled days, are the issues which specially demand adjustment.
They are swept particularly, and swept directly, to the final adjustment-centre; and that centre is accordingly compelled, both by its own nature and by their urgency, to take the initiative in their adjustment, and to act with an original efficiency as well as a formal finality.
The powers of a social parliament will not therefore be powers of legislation. They will, at the most, be powers of advice to the one and only legislative authority—or, more exactly, for even ‘advice’ is too strong a term, they will be powers of expressing social opinion and formulating social aspiration at the bar of that authority.
Now a State-created body, acting in the framework and as a part of the State, is not the natural or logical vehicle for the exercise of those powers. Society is something different from the State, and the formulation of social opinion is something different from the formulation of legal rules.
If Society is the area of voluntary formations and voluntary action, we should naturally expect a social parliament (or a complex of social parliaments, corresponding to the complexity of society) to form itself voluntarily, and not to be formed by an act of State-creation.
We should also expect it, when it is formed, to move in the area of Society and to proceed by the method of social action: to express social opinion and aspiration, and to serve as an indication of the trend of thought in general Society.
It will thus be a new form (and yet, perhaps, by no means so new as its advocates think) of that play of national or public opinion which, is always at work behind the political parliament, and which is always affecting and qualifying the action of that parliament.
We must not exaggerate the peculiarity or the novelty of the idea of a social parliament. It is an idea which is neither so peculiar nor so novel as many are inclined to think. There already exists, and has long existed among us, a whole complex of what may be called ‘social parliaments’.
There are the ‘social parliaments’ of the organized professions (though there is as yet no federal parliament of all the professions); there is the ‘social parliament’ of the occupations, in the shape of the Trades Union Congress; there are the ‘social parliaments’ of the employers in the shape of their federations and unions; there are the ‘social parliaments’ of the different churches; there are a number of ‘social parliaments’ (partly professional, but some of a wider scope) in the field of education.
The novelty of the idea of a social parliament, in the form in which it has become recently current, consists in the suggestion of a new joint social parliament in the field of industrial production, representing both workers and employers, and drawing together the separate ‘social parliaments’ in which the two sides have hitherto acted.
This would, indeed, be something new, though there have been tentative movements towards it during the last thirty years. But the question is whether such a new joint social parliament cannot form itself, and is not likely to form itself, by the method of voluntary action.
We may safely answer that the fertility of social invention is not exhausted; that the idea of the voluntary formation of such a new joint body has already been mooted between workers and employers; and that in the new conditions of production and the new social temper of our time the idea may thrive to fruition.
We have already formed a number of specialized social parliaments for ourselves by the method of voluntary action. There is no reason, in the nature of things, why we should not form for ourselves, by the same voluntary method, a new social parliament, of a greater scope and of wider dimensions, in the shape of a joint industrial parliament.
But such a new social parliament, so formed, will be a parliament of Society (otherwise it will not be a ‘social parliament’): it will not be a parliament of the State, or a ‘third House’, or anything else which is in pari materia with the organs and organization of the legal community.
It will be simply an organ, larger and more catholic in its scope than the previous organs, but not different from them in its nature, for the expression of social opinions and social aspirations.
We must beware of importing into our thought about social parliaments any idea of a policy of devolution; any idea that the State should remit to social organs its own specific and inalienable political function of preparing, formulating, and enunciating all the rules of law. Devolution is a current word.
It is the reverse side of the word ‘congestion’, which is often applied to the parliament and the general government of the State. It is possible that there is congestion of the State; but if there is the remedy has to be found within the State.
Devolution of the legal powers of the territorial State, if it should be attempted, will naturally be territorial devolution—devolution, that is to say, on the territorial subdivisions of the State, which are of the same nature as itself.
It will be devolution on national areas, if such areas are contained in the State. It will be devolution on provincial, regional, and local areas of one order or other—in a word, on areas of neighbourhood. (Neighbourhood is the great bond of men, uniting people of all sorts, for purposes of all sorts, in common areas of residence which are the areas of those general contacts and general relations that really need adjustment.)
But even devolution of this order, devolution of the territorial order, logical as it may seem, may not be practicable in a country such as Great Britain. Here a large population is massed together, upon a small soil, in a system of relations so inextricably interwoven, from one end of the country to the other, that any legal rule must always be a rule which also runs from end to end. It is difficult, after all, to think even of a system of provincial or regional sub-legislatures in the conditions of such a texture.
How much more difficult, then, will it be to think of a system of social sub-legislatures, or to advocate a policy of functional devolution—devolution, that is to say, on social-economic groups pursuing social and economic aims in the area of Society. Here we cannot even plead the claims of logic in our favour, as we can for territorial devolution.
On the contrary, we are involved in a confusion of ideas. Social groups belong to the area of Society; they are not subdivisions of the State. No social group, and no assembly representing such a group or a number of such groups, is fitted by its nature to act as an organ of the legal and rule-making association which we call the State.
It is true that the opinion of a social group, or of an assembly representing such a group, may properly affect the State, because it is a part and a form of that encompassing body of general social opinion which is always playing upon, always affecting, and always qualifying the action of the legal association.
But it is also true that a social group in itself, and any assembly representing such a group or a number of such groups, is not, and is not by its nature fitted to be, a law-making, or even a law-formulating, or indeed in any sense a legal body, as all organs of the legal association must be.
There is not only a confusion of ideas, and a defect of logic, in the idea of functional devolution of the powers of the State. There are also grave practical difficulties. One of these practical difficulties is the difficulty of space. The members of social groups (doctors, miners, teachers, transport-workers, lawyers, agricultural workers) are necessarily scattered in space, and separated by interstices. But the State, and each division of the State, is by its nature a territorial continuum.
It is based on contiguity in space, and on the fact and feeling of neighbourhood. To combine in a single scheme the functional and the territorial would be to mix and confound the discrete and the continuous. There is a second and greater difficulty—a difficulty not of material space, but of mental sentiment and moral solidarity.
Functions, when they are complementary and are consciously felt to be complementary, may serve to draw men together in the sense of a common need and the feeling of mutual dependence. But it is also true, and even more true, that they also serve to divide, and that each industry, trade, occupation, and profession develops its own special interest, its own peculiar bias, and its own exclusive group-interest.
It would be far from easy for the State to devolve upon such bodies the performance of any of the common duties which it owes to the whole territorial community. The essence of the State, and equally of the divisions of the State, is a common territorial citizenship, which unites the residents in a common area for the common handling of the common questions that concern them all in their common capacity as neighbours.
But while there is reason to doubt the idea that the State should devolve any part of its powers upon social groups, there is little reason for doubting that the modern State owes a large and generous measure of respect to such group in the exercise of their own intrinsic and native powers. It would not show that respect—indeed it would do the opposite—if it sought to incorporate social groups in its own organization, and to make them part of its own legal system.
There are other and more generous methods which the State can adopt. In the first place, it can recognize frankly that there is a whole area of social action parallel to, if different from, its own area of legal action: an area of voluntary action, of tentative non-official effort, of many-sided initiative and manifold experiment.
In other words, it can recognize that it is not only concerned with individuals (‘the State and the Individual’ is not the whole of the matter), but also with societies: it can admit that it is in its nature not only an association composed of individuals, but also an association composed of associations (consociatio consociationum).
Accordingly it can respect and protect the liberty and the rights of groups, as well as the liberty and the rights of individuals. In the second place, and as a part of such respect and protection, it can develop a general law of associations and their rights, side by side with its private law of persons and the rights of persons.
It can construct, as a modern jurist has said, a system of ‘public law on the lines of a comprehensive treatment of the rights and duties of various social organizations— .. .ecclesiastical, professional, educational, literary—that have stepped in between the individual and the State and are daily growing in importance in their task of organizing scattered individuals into conscious and powerful groups’.
In the third place, and as a still farther extension of its respect for and its protection of the life of voluntary societies, it may even give positive aid and encouragement to their activities. Just as the modern State increasingly aids and encourages the development of individuals by the provision of what are called public social services, so it can also aid and encourage the development of societies, when they are doing good work for the benefit of the general community, by fostering their expansion and even by giving them financial aid.
The policy of financial subsidies adopted by the British Government during the last thirty years towards the societies, called universities, that serve the advancement of learning and the general promotion of higher education, may be cited as a notable example of the respect which the modern State can show, and the encouragement it can give, to societies which render voluntary service, in their own way, for the benefit of the general community.