Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][ocr errors]

proved to be subject to the effective control of Parliament. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police Acts, by substituting an entirely new unit of area for the Parish, by inventing an unprecedented organisation of undefined extent, and placing the permanent management of this organisation in the hands of the Crown, constituted an era in the history of local government in this country. The process of superseding the old parish constable throughout the country by the introduction of a class of officials better paid, better educated, and better managed, and subject to a more central administrative authority than that of the local justices on the spot, has been carried on by a series of Acts, among which may be mentioned the Act of 1839, enabling the Justices of any county in Quarter Sessions to appoint a chief Constable, who, with the concurrence of two or more Justices, might appoint superintendents for different divisions of the county, and any number of petty constables to act under them; the Act of 1856, by which the establishment of a county police force was made obligatory in every county, and power was given to Her Majesty in Council to require the division of a county into police districts, and arrange the terms of consolidation of the police of a county and borough; and the Act of 1872, which provided that no parish constables should be henceforth appointed by any parish, unless the Court of Quarter Sessions should decide that such appointment was necessary, or unless the Vestries of the parish should resolve on the appointment.

In intimate connection with the parliamentary reconstitution of the Parish in respect of Poor-law relief and the police, are the strenuous efforts that of late

L

years have been made by Parliament to further, supervise, and economise local efforts for promoting those various and often incongruous objects now compendiously gathered up under the title of the Public Health. According to the language of a series of Acts of Parliament, from the Public Health Act of 1848 to that of 1875, Public Health includes public well-being, comfort, and even entertainment, inasmuch as these Acts contemplate the paving and lighting of streets, and the purchase and management of grounds of public recreation, no less than the abatement of nuisances, the utilisation of sewage, and the prevention of the spread of infections diseases. The legal machinery resorted to in this legislation is closely analogous to that of the Poor-law system. The parish is taken as the unit of area for rating, but the district of management is not conterminous with it. A Local Board of Health could be appointed for the district, either on the petition of a certain portion of the ratepayers, or on the annual death-rate reaching a certain height; and by the later Acts the institution of Local Boards has been made more and more generally compulsory. The Local Board has been brought into close correspondence, first witb the Central Board of Health, and, since 1871, with the Local Government Board, the consent of which Board is required to all the more important acts of the local authority. It is unfortunate that a number of objects closely akin to the heterogeneous objects- already comprehended by the Public Health Acts have been simultaneously made the subject of distinct legislation of an analogous kind, which has resulted in the co-existence of a number of districts often complicated with each other, and destitute of all uniformity in respect of the

County Administration. 147

election of authorities, the principles of rating, and the mode of central supervision.1 Sewers Acts, Land Drainage Acts, Highway Acts, and a variety of local Acts for the construction of town halls, lunatic asylums, prisons, industrial schools, and reformatories, are specimens of legislation which may be described as introducing new and special local authorities somewhere intermediate between the parish vestry and the Court of Quarter Sessions, inclining to the former so far as relates to rating and chargeability, to the latter so far as relates to constitution and management. In the case of corporate boroughs the usual practice has been to make the Town Council the Local Board for the purposes of the several Acts.

This subject leads directly to a consideration of the reform of county administration, so far as Parliament has of late taken upon itself to grapple with so arduous, and in many quarters so unpopular, an undertaking. It has often been noticed that the county rate imposed by Justices of the Peace at Quarter Sessions is the only instance in this country of taxation without a shadow of a representative character in the taxing authority. It is said that, inasmuch as the Justices are appointed by the Lord Chancellor on the nomination of the Lord Lieutenant of the county, the taxing authority is a mere branch of the central Executive. Seeing, however, that the appointment of Justices is limited by rating and residence, and the necessity of having the business of Petty Sessions in the different subdivisions of the county conducted by Justices in the neighbourhood, the checks on any overbearing pressure on the part of

1 Sec Eeport of Select Committee of the House of Commons on Local Taxation.

the central Executive are so numerous and effective as scarcely to leave any ground of apprehension open on this score. Nevertheless, it is now well recognised that, apart from all fear of corruption or undue central pressure, divers constitutional advantages would follow from a reorganisation on a popular basis of the Court of Quarter Sessions, as an administrative if not as a judicial body. On the general principle all political parties seem to be agreed, as the proposed legislation on the subject clearly shows. The obstacles which impede progress seem to be rather due to the difficulty of drawing a line between the sort of business for which special qualifications—whether of rank, property, or knowledge—are required, and can be best tested by the central executive authority, and those other functions for the fit discharge of which public opinion can, by the medium of voting, supply sufficient guarantees. There seems to be no constitutional scruple felt in any quarter as to the right, plenary capacity, and duty of Parliament to readjust the Court of Quarter Sessions as freely as it is constantly readjusting all the other oldest and most familiar local councils anywhere to be found.

Precedents in proof of the competency of Parliament to invigorate, where necessary, both Quarter and Petty Sessions, even on their judicial side, are supplied by the class of legislation by which Police Magistrates are appointed for the metropolis and its suburbs, Stipendiary Magistrates are or may be appointed in certain populous places, and paid Chairmen of Quarter Sessions are or may be appointed in certain of the larger towns. The Act carried in 1877 by Mr. Cross for the abolition of the less-filled prisons throughout the country, and the concentration of prison management in the hands of

[merged small][ocr errors]

novel authorities under a more direct central control, are yet further indications of parliamentary determination to allow no deference to the most antique county usages to stand in the way of the public advantage and of general economy.

It is needless to refer again to the enactments and operation of the Municipal Corporations Act; and it would be superfluous to say much on Mr. Forster's comprehensive measure for combining local activity with central supervision in the matter of Public Education. The former of these measures was one rather of renovating what was on the eve of expiring than of novel construction. The latter measure marked the introduction of a wholly new policy, based upon the constitutional right of the State, thereby for the first time asserted, to intervene, whatever the cost, or whatever the mechanical pressure needed for the purpose, in order to vindicate the claims of the young to education, in the same way in which by the Poor-law system it had for centuries vindicated their claim to food and clothing. Whatever novelty there is in this great measure must be looked for rather in the combination of local and central machinery which it employed, than in any startling constitutional assumption. The assumption of constitutional right was really contained in all the previous assumptions on the part of Parliament to protect the young at the expense of negligent parents, of the parish, or of the State, as the case might be; and it needed only a larger and deeper view of all the issues at stake in the matter of public education, as compared with other ends habitually sought by far more decisive and even questionable parliamentary means, to bring it into clear light, and rank it in its true order of necessary sequence.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »