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THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT, 1888.
J. F. B. FIRTH, LL.B., M.P.,
OF THE MIDDLE TEMPLE, BARRISTER-AT-LAW;
Author of "Municipal London"; of the Cobden Club Essay on
EDGAR R. SIMPSON, LL.M., M.A.,
OF LINCOLN'S INN, BARRISTER-AT-LAW.
Dimidium facti qui cœpit habet.—Hor.
KNIGHT AND CO., 90, FLEET STREET, E.C.
The effect of the Local Government Act, 1888, upon the Metropolis has as yet been but dimly and imperfectly apprehended. Whilst the Act makes a great change in the county government of England and Wales, it effects a change in London which is little short of a revolution. For the first time in its history the metropolis of the Empire will have a direct control over the most important matters of municipal work. The London Council is in fact a London municipality. It will be elected upon a wide suffrage, and will have in its hands the welfare of more than four millions of people.
It will not merely absorb the functions of county authorities, but will succeed to all the powers, duties, and liabilities of the Metropolitan Board of Works. That board came into existence on January 1, 1856, and it will pass away on April 1, 1889, having had a life of thirty-three years and three months. During that period it has exercised an enormous influence upon the municipal affairs of London. It has constructed a main drainage system at a cost of more than six millions and a half: embanked the Thames : freed most of the bridges from toll: constructed vast arteries of street communication : established and maintained a metropolitan fire brigade: provided and maintained 2603 acres of parks and open spaces free to the public for ever : exercised a controlling jurisdiction over the half-million buildings of London : cleared vast insanitary areas : and in many other ways discharged under more than 120 Acts of Parliament important municipal functions in London.
The transfer by a single clause in an Act of Parliament of the powers, duties, and liabilities of an Authority of this kind to a directly elected municipality, is an operation the boldness of which is not less striking than its magnitude.
The duties so transferred to the new London Council will tax to the utmost the patriotism and energy of those who are elected upon it. The work will be especially exacting during the earlier period of its life, when it will have the responsibility of settling its own procedure, and of bringing into harmonious arrangement the multifold jurisdictions conferred upon it.
The London Council will in its general action and procedure be governed by the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act, and some difficulty may be expected to arise from the fact that there are few, if any, persons in London either in an official or non-official position who have had practical experience of the working of that Act. On the other hand the council will have the assistance of those who are familiar with the method in which the transferred jurisdictions have hitherto been exercised.
How many of the present members of the Board of Works or of county authorities will occupy seats at the London Council cannot at present be foreseen, but there must of necessity be a considerable number of councillors who have had no opportunity of gaining knowledge of, or experience in, local government work. In addition to this, the Local Government Act presents many points of difficulty in interpretation and construction, even to the experienced lawyer or official.
In this book we have endeavoured to meet the requirements both of the layman and the official. The introductory chapters set out in a summarised form the constitution and procedure of the council and the duties that it will have to perform. Without being encumbered with detail it is hoped that this statement will enable the London Councillor to form a reasonably clear idea upon these matters, and full references have been given to original authorities in order to enable him, if he thinks fit, to obtain a complete knowledge of all or any of the matters with which the new council will be concerned.
As to the strictly legal part of the work, it is to be observed that the Local Government Act in its adaptation to London presents a number of serious difficulties. Many parts of the Act are manifestly inapplicable to the metropolis, and other parts do not appear to be applicable. These parts are enclosed in square brackets. There are in several places also, very serious difficulties of construction, and this in some cases where the interests and changes involved are enormous in their magnitude and vital in their character. Some of these have already been the subject
of public controversy, and whilst the constructions which are here adopted have not been adopted without a measure of diffidence, yet the Authors may say as to nearly all of them that there is reason to believe that such constructions are in accordance with the intentions of the framers of the Act.
Apart from questions of construction it is to be expected that where so many Acts of Parliament have had to be consulted and collated, and so many facts dealt with, errors will be found. Every care has been taken to exclude them, and it is hoped that where such are found to exist they may be pointed out in order that they may not be reproduced.
It is entirely outside the scope of this work either to construct or to indicate a programme of new work for the London Council, or to award praise or blame to the work done by existing institutions. The object has been to present in a clear logical form the effect of the new Act: the constitution and functions of the council: and the method in which the jurisdictions and powers of the council may be harmoniously interwoven into a practicable and workable system.
As time goes on, new powers will be conferred upon the London Council. It is proposed at no distant date to introduce a measure to complete the reform of London Government, and the Administration have promised to give full consideration to the representations of the London Council as to the best way in which this may be done. Important therefore as this body will be, and enormous as will be the initial powers conferred upon it, there will be more power and greater responsibility to follow.
In the hands of the London Council will rest the municipal welfare of millions of people, and with them will be the power to make the government of this Metropolis an example to the capitals of the world.