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to Highway Boards in England and North Wales, dated

9th March, 1894

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(56 & 57 Vict. c. 73.)


General effect of Local Government Act, 1894, in regard to Parochial and other Local Authorities.

THE key-note of modern social legislation is its trust in local authorities. Year after year, for the past few generations, the burden of duties imposed by statute on those authorities has steadily grown, and at the present day their control is felt in almost every department of human life. But, except in the case of municipal boroughs, the organisation of local authorities was not developed equally with their duties so as to keep them thoroughly in touch with the changed circumstances of the times. Whilst comparatively few sessions passed by without some reform or other of our parliamentary system of government being made, the statute book for many years did practically nothing to introduce similar principles into local administration. The chaos of overlapping areas and authorities was added to rather than diminished, and privilege reigned supreme in local elections. The Municipal Reform Act, 1835, organised boroughs upon a popular basis, and although it was followed by numerous other statutes relating to municipal boroughs, which were consolidated and amended by the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, the essential features of the municipal system of election have now existed for nearly sixty years. It was the successful working, for almost two generations, of that system of popular election and government which recommended its adaptation to the County Councils established by the Local Government Act, 1888. The principles then applied to the government of counties have now been extended and carried out to their logical conclusion by the measure which Mr. Fowler has succeeded in placing on the statute book, and an important step has been taken towards the simplification of areas of local government, and the concentration in the hands of the new Parish and District Councils of the powers and duties sometimes exercised in those areas by several concurrent authorities.

Before dealing in detail with the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1894, a brief reference to the local authorities who are more or less affected by those provisions may be serviceable. From the


ancient Open Vestry in which the inhabitants of rural parish and township have met since time immemorial, down to the modern Rural Sanitary Authority, the Act has dealt impartially with the constitution and duties of existing authorities for the purpose of securing a uniform system of popular local government under the County Councils established by the Local Government Act, 1888. The measure during its passage through Parliament was popularly called the Parish Councils Bill; but as a matter of fact the establishment of Parish Councils, although given the first prominence in the Act, is supplemented by provisions of scarcely less importance relating to Boards of Guardians and District Councils. Numerous duties in connection with the adjustment of areas and boundaries and other matters are also imposed on County Councils for the general purpose of bringing the Act into operation.


The meeting of inhabitants in Open Vestry for the business of the parish dates from a very early period, but there would be no advantage for the present purpose in discussing at length any question whether the origin of the Vestry is to be attributed to the meeting of the inhabitants of townships for civil purposes, or to the meeting of parishioners for ecclesiastical purposes. A meeting held primarily for one purpose would no doubt be utilised for the other, and when it is remembered that the distinction between secular and religious business was not so marked in early times, there is no reason for surprise that the Parish Vestry has for centuries past had powers and duties that relate to both civil and ecclesiastical affairs. In either its civil or religious aspect the Vestry is a venerable institution, and the transfer of its civil business to Parish Meetings and Councils under the new Act may in some minds give rise to a pardonable sentiment of regret. The ancient Vestry will not altogether disappear, but will still be summoned for ecclesiastical affairs, such as the election of churchwardens, and, in some parishes, matters connected with the administration or distribution of certain ecclesiastical charities. Every ratepayer who has paid all rates except those due within three months preceding the vestry meeting is entitled to attend the vestry meeting, and to have one vote where the rateable value of his qualifying premises does not amount to £50, and to have one vote for every full £25 of the rateable value where the value amounts to £50 and upwards; but the maximum number of votes for each ratepayer is six. Under the Local Government Act, 1894, there is no plurality of votes at parish meetings or elections.


In some parishes Select Vestries, consisting of a limited number of persons, exercised the powers of the Open Vestry at common law, Custom often determined the constitution of these bodies. Under the Vestries Act, 1831, long known as Hobhouse's Act, which might be

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