§ 63. “Dissolve.”

This section confers upon the Governor-General the power to dissolve the House of Representatives before the expiration of the three years for which it is elected. By section 57 the Governor-General, in the circumstances therein specified, is further authorized to dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously.

GRANTING A DISSOLUTION.—It is the prerogative of the Crown to dissolve an existing Parliament subject only to the constitutional rule that this great power, described by Sir Charles G. Duffy as “the most popular of all the prerogatives,” and one of immense utility, can be exercised only on the advice and approval of a Minister of State directly responsible to the national chamber. The granting of a dissolution is, of course, an executive act, the ministerial responsibility for which can be easily established. The following have been suggested as the leading considerations which should reasonably support and justify ministerial advice in favour of a dissolution (Todd, 2nd ed. p. 771):

  • (i.) When a vote of “no confidence” is carried against a government which has not already appealed to the country.
  • (ii.) When there are reasonable grounds to believe that an adverse vote against the government does not represent the opinions and wishes of the country, and would be reversed by a new Parliament.
  • (iii.) When the existing Parliament was elected under the auspices of the opponents of the government.
  • (iv.) When the majority against a government is so small as to make it improbable that a strong government can be formed from the opposition.

REFUSING A DISSOLUTION.—The refusal of a dissolution, recommended by a Minister of State, is not an executive act; it is a refusal to do an executive act. It seems to be

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generally admitted by constitutional authorities that the Crown has still an undoubted constitutional right to withhold its consent to the application of a minister for permission to dissolve Parliament. The sovereign, it is said, ought not to be a mere passive instrument in the hands of ministers; it is not merely the right but the duty of the sovereign to exercise his judgment on the advice so tendered.

“And though, by refusing to act upon that advice, he incurs a serious responsibility, if they should in the end prove to be supported by public opinion, there is, perhaps, no case in which this responsibility may be more safely and more usefully incurred than when ministers have asked to be allowed to appeal to the people from a decision pronounced against them by the House of Commons. For they might prefer this request when there was no probability of the vote of the House being reversed by the nation, and when the measure would be injurious to the public interests. In such a case, the sovereign ought clearly to refuse to allow a dissolution.” (Todd, Parl. Govt. in England, II., 2nd ed., 510.)

“The power of dissolution is, of all the trusts vested in His Majesty, the most critical and delicate.” (Burke, Works, III., p. 525.)

“It is a great instrument in the hands of the Crown, and it would have a tendency to blunt the instrument if it were employed without grave necessity.” (Sir Robert Peel, Speeches, IV., p. 710.)

“It seems to be generally supposed that a defeated minister is entitled, if he think fit, at once to ‘appeal to the country.’ The concurrence of the Crown is assumed as a matter of course. But although ministers may advise a dissolution, the King is by no means bound to follow that advice. The refusal to grant the dissolution would indeed be a sufficient ground for the resignation of ministers; but, on the other hand, compliance with the request can only be meant to assist them against the hostility of Parliament. Such assistance the King cannot and ought not indiscriminately to give. The question therefore arises in what circumstances, according to modern constitutional usage, ought the prerogative of dissolving Parliament to be exercised.” (Hearn's Gov. of Eng., p. 162.)

“Except where some organic change has been effected in the construction of Parliament, the only reason which can induce the King prematurely to dismiss his Great Council must be either that the advice that he obtains from it is unacceptable to him, or that he can obtain no definite and decided advice, or that the two portions of his Council are discordant. In other words, either there is a difference of opinion between the Crown and the House of Commons on the subject of some ministry; or the different parties in the Commons are so equally divided that business is obstructed; or the two Houses cannot on some material question come to an agreement.” (Hearn's Gov. of Eng., p. 163-4.)

“If the minister to whom a dissolution has been refused is not willing to accept the decision of the sovereign, it is his duty to resign. He must then be replaced by another minister, who is prepared to accept full responsibility for the act of the sovereign, and for its consequences, in the judgment of Parliament.” (Todd, Parl. Govt. in Eng., vol. ii., p. 408.)

“It is evident, therefore, that the sovereign—when, in the exercise of this prerogative, a dissolution is either granted or refused—must be sustained and justified by the agreement of a responsible minister. If this be constitutionally necessary, as respects the sovereign, it is doubly so in the case of a Governor. For the sovereign is not personally responsible to any earthly authority; but a Governor is directly responsible to the Crown for every act of his administration.” (Todd, Parl. Govt. in the Col., 2nd ed., p. 761.)

“As the representative of the Crown in the dominion, colony, or province, over which he is commissioned to preside, the power of dissolution rests absolutely and exclusively with the Governor or Lieutenant-Governor for the time being. He is personally responsible to the Crown for the lawful exercise of this prerogative, but he is likewise bound to take into account the welfare of the people, being unable to divest himself of a grave moral responsibility towards the colony he is commissioned to govern.” (Todd, id., p. 800.)

“Whilst this prerogative, as all others in our constitutional system, can only be administered upon the advice of counsellors prepared to assume full responsibility for the Governor's decision, the Governor must be himself the judge of the necessity for a dissolution. The ‘constitutional discretion’ of the Governor should be invoked in respect to every case wherein a dissolution may be advised or requested by his ministers; and his judgment ought not to be fettered, or his discretion disputed, by inferences drawn from previous precedents, when he decides that a proposed dissolution is unnecessary or undesirable.” (Todd, id., p. 800.)

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“It is the duty of a Governor to consider the question of a dissolution of the parliament or legislature solely in reference to the general interests of the people and not from a party standpoint. He is under no obligation to sustain the party in power if he believes that the accession to office of their opponents would be more beneficial to the public at large. He is, therefore, justified in withholding a dissolution requested by his ministers, when he is of opinion that it was asked for merely to strengthen a particular party, and not with a view to ascertain the public sentiment upon disputed questions of public policy. These considerations would always warrant a governor in withholding his consent to a dissolution applied for, under such circumstances, by a ministry that had been condemned by a vote of the popular chamber. If he believes that a strong and efficient administration could be formed that would command the confidence of an existing Assembly, he is free to make trial thereof instead of complying with the request of his ministers to grant them a dissolution as an alternative to their enforced resignation of office. On the other hand, he may at his discretion grant a dissolution to a ministry defeated in Parliament and desirous of appealing to the constituencies, notwithstanding that one or both branches of the legislature should remonstrate against the proposed appeal, if only he is persuaded that it would be for the public advantage that the appeal should be allowed.” (Todd, id., p. 801.)

“Parliament is usually dissolved by proclamation under the great seal, after having been prorogued to a certain day. This proclamation is issued by the Queen, with the advice of her Privy Council; and announces that the Queen has given order to the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to issue out writs in due form, and according to law, for calling a new Parliament; and that the writs are to be returnable in due course of law.” (May's Parl. Prac., 10th ed., p. 46.)

“On the 17th July, 1837, Parliament was prorogued and dissolved on the same day. On the 23rd July, 1847, the Queen, in proroguing Parliament, announced her intention immediately to dissolve it; and it was accordingly dissolved by proclamation on the same day, and the writs were despatched by that evening's post; and this course is now the ordinary, but not the invariable practice.” (May's Parl. Prac., 10th ed., p. 47.)