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THE ORGANISATION OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD AND ITS SPHERE OF ACTIVITY
THE Local Government Board, one of the largest offices in the home civil service, is, like its immediate predecessor the Poor Law Board, a Parliamentary department, having been developed from a body of commissioners created for a particular purpose until it attained at last to full ministerial dignity. The stages of this process resemble those by which the Treasury, the oldest department of the English government, grew into its present shape. Originally Treasury business was delegated by the Crown to a number of Commissioners appointed for the purpose; and Government similarly in 1834 the business of supervising the Board. new Poor Law system by the first Poor Law
Evolution of the Local
Amendment Act to five Commissioners.1 But whereas the organisation of the Treasury still rests partly upon customary tradition, and remains after the lapse of centuries formally imperfect, that of the Local Government found itself after a short life of forty years plainly and legibly printed in an Act of Parliament. In essentials, however, the resemblance of the two departments is close. Just as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has acquired by the custom of the constitution sole responsibility for financial policy, having previously
1 The Commission was converted into a representative office under the Crown by the Poor Law Board Act of 1847. Cf. Mackay's History of the Poor Law for the controversies over this Act during its passage through Parliament. For the history of the Treasury, cf. Gneist, Englisches Verwaltungsrecht, vol. ii. p. 762 sqq.; and Lord Welby's Letters and Notes contributed to the Life of Mr. Childers (London, John Murray, 1901).
2 "The position of the Treasury in our constitution is unique. It possesses all the powers and functions formerly wielded by the Lord High Treasurer;
shared it with the Lords of the Treasury, so from 1847 to 1871 the President of the Poor Law Board, and since 1871 the President of the Local Government Board, have been solely responsible to the Ministry and to Parliament for all that has been done in a steadily widening province of local administration. Nominally, however, the President of the Local Government Board, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is assisted by colleagues who sit on the Board over which he presides: the Lord President of the Council, the principal Secretaries of State, the Lord Privy Seal, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Board, however, never meets, and its sole remaining use appears to be that in the absence of the President orders may be signed by one of the ex-officio members, usually the Home Secretary, whose office is next door. In such a case, however, the Home Secretary does not consider himself to have any voice in the matter. His signature is a purely formal act. The real link between the department which controls local administration and the other departments of government is the association of Ministers in an informal Cabinet, not in a statutory board. If, as has sometimes been the case, the President of the Local Government Board is not in the Cabinet, he and his department may be expected to play a less important part in politics and legislation. That contingency, however, is hardly to be expected in the future; for the operations of the Board are of such concern to the country, that its representative in Parliament will require not only ability and knowledge, but the weight and dignity attaching to a seat in the Cabinet.
The salary of the President has not grown with the im
the latter had for centuries been the Chief Minister of the Crown, and his office was therefore invested with traditional as well as statutory powers, which have in great measure passed to the Treasury. The First Lord (usually the Prime Minister) is of course the ultimate head of financial government; but practically he is rather a Court of Appeal between the Treasury and other ministers than the active chief of Treasury administration. The Minister therefore who in practice wields all the power of the Treasury is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in official rank is the Second Lord of the Treasury" (Lord Welby, in the Life of Childers, vol. i. p. 126).
1 The last President without a seat in the Cabinet was Mr. Sclater Booth (1874-1880). There is no instance of a President either of the Poor Law or Local Government Board having been a member of the House of Lords.
portance of his office, being only £2000 a year-less than half the amount assigned to most of the principal offices of State.1 The Parliamentary Secretary receives £1200 a
The President and Parliamentary Secretary.
He helps the President in the work of the office, and is the only other active officer of the Board who sits in Parliament. The Parliamentary work of the President and Parliamentary Secretary consists in answering questions with regard to the Department and in the conduct of Bills through the House of Commons. All public Bills concerned with local government are drafted by the office of the Parliamentary Counsel2 in accordance with the instructions of the President; and it is for him to obtain the sanction, first of the Cabinet, and secondly of Parliament, for any important measure belonging to his province. Before preparing such a measure, the Parliamentary Counsel will have a preliminary conference with the President or the Permanent Secretary of the Local Government Board. It may then be necessary to prepare memoranda stating the existing law, tracing the history of previous legislative enactments or proposals, or raising the preliminary questions of principle which have to be settled. Then, we are told, by the authority above referred to, the first draft is made either in the form of a rough sketch or of the "heads of a Bill." This original draft is "gradually elaborated after repeated conferences with the Minister, and with those whom he takes into his confidence." It is usual, of course, for Bills dealing with questions of local government to be introduced into and piloted through the House of Commons by the President of the Board; but the Parliamentary Secretary takes charge of minor legislation of a non-contentious character, such as the Annual Bills to confirm the Provisional Orders of the Board. The President is responsible for obtaining the sanction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the departmental estimates, and for defending and explaining them, if necessary, to the House of Commons in Committee of Supply. The total budget of the Board amounted in the year 1900 to £197,085.
1 The salary of the Home Secretary, for example (whose work is similar in kind and certainly not more onerous), is £5000.
2 Cf. Sir C. P. Ilbert's Legislative Methods and Forms, p. 86 sqq.
The chief of the staff is the Permanent Secretary, at a salary of £1500 to £1800. He is the principal adviser of the President, who naturally trusts to his expert The Permanent knowledge and long experience. But an efficient Secretary and and vigorous President exercises through the Permanent Secretary a real control over administration, and will decide in consultation with him all important questions and difficulties as they arise. The five assistant secretaries and the legal adviser (£1000 to £1200 a year) stand next in. importance. The assistant secretaries preside over the 5 divisions of the Board; and these again are subdivided into 11 departments, with a principal clerk at the head of each. The Board has a medical officer and a staff of medical inspectors, a staff of engineering inspectors, a parliamentary agent and a legal assistant, 14 general inspectors, and 4 assistant general inspectors, an inspector of audits, 2 inspectors of Poor Law schools, 2 medical inspectors for Poor Law purposes, an architect and assistants, an inspector of local Acts and local loans, an inspector of canal boats, 3 lady inspectors of boarded-out children, and a large staff of auditors. The general inspectors live in different parts of the country, and only pay occasional visits to the Board. One of the assistants to the general inspectors is a lady. In 1898 the staff was considerably increased; and the number of clerks in the office in 1902 was nearly 350, of whom about 57, besides the secretary and assistant secretaries, were in the Upper Division at salaries rising from £150 to £850, and about 134 in the Second Division at salaries rising from £70 to £400. An annual examination is held for the clerkships of the Upper Division in the Home Civil Service in conjunction with the Indian Civil Service, and the competition is very severe, the successful candidates being usually men who have graduated with high honours at the universities. Candidates must be either twenty-two or twenty-three years old. The entrance examination for the clerkships of the Second Division is of a totally different character, and only requires an ordinary commercial education.
The salaries of the district auditors, six of whom live in London, the rest in the provinces, commence at £500 and rise to £800. There are also six or seven assistant
auditors with salaries of £300 to £450. Their duties, which consist in the auditing of the accounts of local authorities, have already been described. The engineering inspectors consist of a chief, deputy-chief, and second deputy-chief, whose functions are advisory, and about sixteen inspectors, whose duty it is to hold local inquiries into application for loans for sewage, water supply, or other engineering works, or to pay visits of inspection. The medical inspectors have very similar duties. The medical officer and his assistant and second assistant remain in the office and advise on medical questions, while the thirteen inspectors travel about the country investigating the state of vaccination, the sanitary condition of various districts, and holding inquiries connected with hospitals.
The organisation of the Board betrays even in its outlines a character distinguishable from that of a continental bureau. It has little resemblance to a foreign Ministry
of the Board.
of the Interior. After all its extensions and and character developments, the Board is most emphatically not the apex of an official pyramid narrowing upwards in regular tiers from a base of provincial and local authorities with delegated power; for there is no such thing as an official hierarchy in England. Even allowing that English counties correspond roughly with the governmental districts and prefectures of the Continent, yet a wide sea separates the two systems of administration. In an English county local government is carried on exclusively by local bodies elected by local ratepayers; in a continental district it is carried on largely by the subordinate officials of a central bureau, with delegated powers under the instructions of official superiors. It is true that English legislation has established a relationship between the central authority and the local organs of administration. But that relationship is not one between a superior, who deals in uncircumscribed imperatives, and inferiors, who yield unconditional administrative obedience. It would be far more true to say that for bureaucratic subjection and centralised omnipotence Parliament has substituted the principle of inspectability. The power of the Local Government Board to inspect the finance and administration of local authorities is the hall-mark of centralisation, as centralisation is understood and practised in England.