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Two Sorts of Centralisation.
centralisation,—one, that of structure or mechanism,the other that of spirit and intention. The centralisation of mechanism implies in itself notbing more than (1) the possession in the hands of a central authority of all the skeins, perhaps tangled and intricate, of the work which is being conducted by innumerable subordinate authorities throughout the country, (2) an incessant contact with all these authorities through the medium of reports and reciprocal communications, and (3) a faculty, whether exercised or not, of controlling or fexibly modifying, to the minutest point of refinement, the action of the authorities dependent upon it. A spirit of centralisation is manifested in the actual exercise of such a faculty for the purpose either of producing absolute uniformity, or of over-riding local opinion and choice in a measure which, in the view of those who dislike centralisation, exceeds what is imperatively required by the common interests of the country. The latter sort of centralisation may or may not be good, according to the matters with which it is concerned, or the times and places of its existence. The other sort of centralisation, that of easy and orderly mechanism, is always good everywhere, and implies nothing more than the utmost economy of expense, labour, and practical knowledge, with enlarged opportunities of homogeneous improvement. Probably the utmost perfection of political efficiency would be attained where mechanical centralisation was developed to the utmost possible extent, and where the centralisation which relates to the spirit and essence of government was applied on such occasions, and no others, on which it might seem probable that the general advantages of uniformity, and of direction by a peculiarly competent though remote authority, would exceed the advantages due to the local energy and constant personal insight which are called into existence in self-contained and self-reliant institutions on a sufficient popular basis.
last-mentioned topic his remarks are of considerable weight, and may be compared with the well-known views of Mr. Herbert Spencer in his Social Statics and scattered political essays.
It is impossible not to see that, in the actual changes respecting local government which have been of late years effected by Parliament, a genuine effort has been made to avoid a needless substitution of central authority for the older and, on the face of them, more popular local councils, and yet at the same time to ensure the reconciliation of the special advantages derivable from local enterprise, knowledge, interest, and concern for economy, with those other advantages in the way of superior force, technical knowledge, scientific and other appliances, as well as stringent supervision, which only Parliament, through its acting medium, the Executive Authority of the day, can command.
It is perhaps in the reconstitution of the Parish, looked at as an area of secular administration, that parliamentary activity in the laying down of new principles for determining the relations of local to central powers has most of all been displayed. The Poor-law of 1834,—which superseded a system of pauper relief and management which had existed without legal alteration from the time of the first parliamentary introduction of a parochial poor-relief system, in the forty-third year of the reign of Elizabeth,—was the earliest modern instance of an invasion of the integrity of the Parish, and of the superposition of a central control of parochial authorities. The earlier constitution of. Select Vestries, and the later
Reconstruction of the Parish.
legislation for controlling, reforming, and multiplying such vestries, did not involve any breach in the parochial system. The essence of the Poor-law of 1834 was contained in two leading provisions. The first of these placed the superintendence of the whole machinery for dispensing relief to the poor in the hands of a central body of three Commissioners, whose functions were afterwards, by the Act of 1847, transferred to the Poor-law Board, a committee of the Privy Council; and still later, in 1871, concentrated, with other analogous functions, in the hands of a similar committee, called the Local Government Board. The second of these provisions contemplated the combination of a number of parishes into a so-called Union, which henceforward, for all purposes but that of taxation, became the unit of area of Poor-law management. By the 26th section of the Act it was enacted: “That it shall be lawful for the said Commis“sioners, by order under their hands and seal, to declare • so many parishes as they may think fit to be united • for the administration of the laws for the relief of the · poor, and such parishes shall thereupon be deemed a • Union for such purpose, and thereupon the workhouse
or workhouses of such parishes shall be for their com'mon use.'
The general reform, as indicated in these distinct provisions, illustrates that attitude of Parliament towards the Parish which, in and through a mass of later legislation for the division, reconstruction, and combination of parishes for all manner of governmental purposes, has been persistently maintained. The attitude is that of recognising and using the Parish as an ex
See Mr. Sturges Bourne's Act in 1818, 58 Geo. III. cap. 69 ; and Sir John Hobhouse's Act in 1831, 1 and 2 Will. IV. cap. 60.
isting, well known, and thoroughly habituated organisation ; but, in the case of the Parish being accidentally too small, too large, or otherwise unsuitable for he political end in view, of entertaining no scruple as to substituting a fresh unit of area, of which, however, the Parish itself is an essential constituent element. The attitude of Parliament is further denoted by the introduction of wholly new guarantees and precautions for the economic use of local funds, and the wise and generally uniform management of local affairs, so far as this can be secured without impairing responsibility on the spot, weakening local energy and interest, or needlessly disturbing local customs, not to say prejudices.
Another point, closely related to the foregoing, though with different legislative results, is the modern reorganisation of the Police, or Parish, Municipal, and County Constabulary. The constitution of what is now known as the Metropolitan Police force, and the substitution in place of the older parochial police of a constabulary indefinite in point of numbers and wholly under the control of a Secretary of State, is perhaps, when thoroughly considered, the most decisive movement towards centralisation in all its senses,—and in some senses somewhat questionable,—which the pre. sent age has witnessed. The preamble of the Act of 1829 ‘for Improving the Police in and near the Metropolis,” is worth citing as a constitutional land-mark. • Whereas Offences against Property have of late in“creased in and near the Metropolis; and the local Establishments of Nightly Watch and Nightly Police have been found inadequate to the Prevention and
10 Geo. IV. cap. 44.
The Metropolitan Police.
• Detection of Crime, by reason of the frequent Unfit
ness of the Individuals employed, the Insufficiency of • their Number, the limited Sphere of their Authority, • and their want of Connection and Co-operation with • each other : And whereas it is expedient to substitute • a new and more efficient System of Police in lieu of
such Establishments of Nightly Watch and Nightly • Police, within the Limits bereinafter mentioned, and • to constitute an office of Police, which, acting under • the immediate Authority of One of His Majesty's • Principal Secretaries of State, shall direct and control • the whole of such new System of Police within those • Limits : Be it enacted,' among other things, that (Section 4) “the wbole of the City and Liberties of • Westminster, and such of the Parishes, Townships, • Precincts, and Places in the Counties of Middlesex, • Surrey, and Kent as are enumerated in the Schedule
to this Act, shall be constituted, for the Purposes of • this Act, into One District, to be called “ the Metro666 politan Police District;” and a sufficient Number
of fit and able Men from Time to Time, by the Direc* tions of One of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of • State, shall be appointed as a Police Force for the • whole of such District, who shall be sworn in by One • of the said Justices to act as Constables for preserving • the Peace, and preventing Robberies and other • Felonies, and apprehending Offenders against the • Peace; and the Men so sworn shall, not only within
the said District, but also within the Counties of • Middlesex, Surrey, Hertford, Sussex, and Kent, and • within all Liberties therein, have all such Powers, • Authorities, Privileges, and Advantages, and be liable • to all such Duties and Responsibilities, as any Con