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Reform of Municipal Corporations. 119
management of all charities whatever, with two or three exceptions, and for that purpose to require accounts, and to appoint inspectors who should have power to examine witnesses on oath. The Board were empowered to assist with their opinion or advice persons concerned in the management of charities, and no legal proceedings could he taken except upon a certificate of the Board. An annual Report of the proceedings of the Board was to be laid before Parliament. The operation of this Statute, and of the Endowed Schools Act of 1869,—a clause of which empowered the Commissioners to convert small doles and insignificant local charities to educational uses,—has undoubtedly gone far to arrest existing abuses and to prevent their further spread. Nevertheless, it is to be remembered that, while Parliament has in this legislation assumed the constitutional right to intervene, the success of the intervention must depend on the effective working of the machinery employed. The function of appointing the Charity Commissioners,—on whom has lately been also cast the work at first entrusted to the Endowed Schools Commissioners,—is an executive one, and like all other executive functions, must depend, for its honest discharge, on the sedulous attention of Parliament. When the appointment is completed, it must still rest largely with Parliament to secure diligence and impartiality on the part of the Commissioners. There is no part of the mechanism of the State in which indolence and oversights are likely to grow with greater ease, nor any part in which the result of such indolence and oversights is likely to be more replete with moral and economical injury to the population.
(4) The history of the reform of municipal corporations is in fact that of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. Since the passing of that Act, no measure of anything like equal proportions has either supplemented or modified it. The City of London has succeeded in escaping any comprehensive legislative interference; and the chief measures, passed or promised only, have for their purpose the extension of the Act of 1835 to a greater number of boroughs than the 178 on which it was originally imposed, and those which have since voluntarily accepted it. In order to understand the real spirit of the legislation of 1835, as distinguished from the details of the reforms effected, it is worth while making a quotation from the Report, published in 1835, of the Corporation Commissioners. They said: 'We report to your Majesty that there 'prevails among the inhabitants of a great majority of 'the incorporated towns a general, and in our opinion 'a just, dissatisfaction with their municipal institutions, 'a distrust of the self-elected municipal councils, 'whose powers are subjected to no popular control, and 'whose acts and proceedings, being secret, are un'checked by the influence of public opinion; a dis'trust of the municipal magistracy, tainting with 'suspicion the local administration of justice, and often 'accompanied with contempt of the persons by whom 'the law is administered; a discontent under the 'burdens of local taxation, while revenues that ought 'to be applied for the public advantage are diverted 'from their legitimate use, and are sometimes waste'fully bestowed for the benefit of individuals, sometimes 'squandered for purposes injurious to the character and 'morals of the people. We therefore feel it to be our 'duty to represent to your Majesty that the existing Economic Legislation.
'municipal corporations of England and Wales neither 'possess nor deserve the confidence and respect of your 'Majesty's subjects; and that a thorough reform must 'be effected before they can become what we humbly 'submit to your Majesty they ought to be, useful and 'efficient instruments of local government.'
The actual reforms effected belong rather to the recent history of local government than to the general constitutional principle, which is the only matter of inquiry here, that Parliament has emphatically assumed to itself the right of introducing into municipal bodies any amount of change which may seem needed to make them really efficacious for public ends. It is sufficient to say that by the Act uniformity and certainty were secured; the municipal constituency,—since made to include women,—was established on a well-recognised basis of rating and residence; the government of the boroughs was vested in bodies elected on a popular principle, and yet so as to avoid the opposite dangers of perpetuity and of capricious and incessant change. The collective population originally affected by the Act was two millions.
3. It might be doubted how far movements in the policy of the country in reference to trade, industry, and social economy properly belong to a consideration of constitutional movements. But when it is remembered that parliamentary interference, for whatever ends, with the free action of citizens in the accumulation and distribution of moneyed capital, and in the processes of organising themselves for the purpose of combined commercial speculations or industrial work, forms a recognised branch of legislation, it is seen at once that the nature and limits of this interference must be determined by some general principles which are in the truest sense constitutional. A line of demarcation has to be drawn between the presumptive claims of individual liberty, of immediate public utility, as scientifically ascertained or believed to be ascertained, and of broader and more general principles of government which cannot be long outraged with impunity. The history of the English Parliament is replete with measures of interference with the economic activity of individual citizens now either tacitly grown obsolete or scientifically condemned. There are found, too, influential schools of political thought of recent growth which would banish the interposition of the State from every field of industrial activity, except in cases such as that of railways, where the essence of the enterprise involves something of the nature of a confiscation, which can only be effected by law. Whatever theories are really in the ascendant in the world of thought, and may ultimately prevail in practice, the only point of constitutional relevancy is that during the last halfcentury, and mainly through the instrumentality of Sir Robert Peel and his political successors, the interference of the State with trade, commerce, money, and social economy generally has been professedly directed in accordance, not with the routine established by longfamiliar custom, nor with the dictates of an immediate expediency, however urgent, nor with the promptings of self-interest discoverable in important classes of the community, but with abstract principles of economy and of government, first laid down by thinkers outside Parliament, and then argumentatively reasoned out and successfully supported within its walls. The proof of these propositions is to be seen in the recent action The Bank Charter Act. 123
of Parliament in reference to (1) the Bank of England and other banks, (2) public Companies, (3) railways, (4) factory legislation, (5) the National Debt, and taxation.
(1) The modern legislation relating to the Bank of England commences with Lord AlthorpeV Act of 1833,1 by which the Bank of England was confirmed in the enjoyment of all its existing privileges until 1855, with the proviso that before the expiration of the term so fixed, and after ten years from the date of the Act, the privileges should cease, on a year's notice being given; 'and any vote or resolution of the House of Commons 'signified by the Speaker of the said House in writing 'and delivered at the public office of the said Governor 'and Company [of the Bank of England] or their suc'cessors should be deemed and adjudged to be a 'sufficient notice.' It was in reliance on this clause that, on May 6, 1844, Sir Robert Peel proposed the revision of the Bank Charter, and introduced the measure afterwards known as the Bank Charter Act, which has, for better or worse, revolutionised the relations of Parliament and the Government of the day with the trading community at large. The magnitude and novelty of the enterprise may be gathered from the language of Sir Robert Peel in first broaching the subject in the House. He said: 'I shall proceed at once to 'call the attention of the House to a matter which 'enters into every transaction of which money forms 'a part. There is no contract, public .or private,—no 'eng&gement, national or individual,—which is un'affected by it. The enterprises of commerce, the 'profits of trade, the arrangements made in all the
1 3 and 4 William IV. cap. 98.