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The alteration

of boundaries

by County Councils.

under the Public Health Act, the Local Government Board may, though it hardly ever does, itself take the initial step; for example, when it is desired to unite existing sanitary districts, or to incorporate an urban district in a borough, or to cut off a part of an urban district and attach it to a rural district. Since 1888, however, some of these powers have been transferred to County Councils, so that in this respect the central authority has been partially superseded, though the Orders made by County Councils are subject to its confirmation. But the alteration of county boundaries is still a function of the Board, though it cannot be exercised save at the instance of the counties concerned. The Act of 1875 also gave the central authority far-reaching powers over the territorial organisation of local government, but without laying down any guiding principle for the exercise of its activity. Consequently, the action of the Board in the years that followed did little to reduce the chaos of countless conflicting areas, which were too intimately fortified by local interests to be simplified and reduced to order by a merely departmental policy. Little therefore was done to improve boundaries, except where the local authorities, interested themselves, called in the Board.

It is practically impossible for an English department of government to pursue a methodical policy unless it is guided and directed by Parliament and public opinion. It was, therefore, not until Parliament and the press began to demand, on national grounds, the simplification of local areas that any general results could be achieved. The appointment of the Boundary Commission in 1887 led to a real inquiry being made into these anomalies and the administrative evils to which they gave rise; and the report of the Commission may be regarded as the first-fruits of a growth in public opinion. The creation in the following year of intermediate courts consisting of local representatives certainly facilitated a reform of local boundaries; for the action of a County Council was not liable to the objection invariably raised against the bureaucratic intervention of a government department. What was begun by the Local Government Act of 1888 was carried further by that of 1894. In the first, County Councils were instituted, and in both a number of principles were laid down

for a simplification (to be carried out mainly by County Councils) of local areas and jurisdictions. That legislation has been described in earlier chapters; but it is important to emphasise here the temper and spirit which forbade Parliament to entrust the work of carrying out statutory principles to a central authority. Even had Parliament desired it, the business of simplification could hardly have been entirely centralised. It was essential that the people themselves should feel it to be their own work undertaken by their own representatives in their own interests; in a word, that the motive and driving force should proceed from elected local bodies. At the same time, inasmuch and in so far as the interests of the State as a whole were concerned, it was generally agreed to be not only unobjectionable but positively necessary that a central department, acting under the ægis of Parliament, should take a direct part in the organisation of the larger local areas. Accordingly, the formation and modification of the boundaries of county and county boroughs were placed under the immediate superintendence of the Local Government Board, while the formation of the areas of the less important local authorities was transferred to the province of the new County Councils under the mediate or indirect control of the Local Government Board. This was an important modification of the Public Health Act of 1875, and tended to diminish the power of the central authority. The boundaries of counties and county boroughs may only be altered at their own request by the Board, which thereupon directs a local inquiry, and settles the matter by a Provisional Order. Even in this its restricted sphere of direct action the Board, it will be observed, has no iniciative of its own. Moreover, in this case also the Order issued being a Provisional Order is completely under the control of Parliament.

According to the wording of the statute, the powers of the Board are certainly not confined to small alterations of area and regulations of boundaries; but practice very soon showed that Parliament had no intention of giving to an administrative authority power to make far-reaching and systematic changes of area. The fact that such changes always perceptbly affect the interests of parochial and district ratepayers has led Parliamentary Select Committees more than

once to recommend that more attention should be paid to local ratepayers than to the purely administrative interests of the central authority that is to say, financial equity is more important than logical simplicity. The means which counties and (county) boroughs employ to resist the levelling tendencies of the central authority are two: first, petitions against the Provisional Order, followed, if necessary, by actual opposition in the Parliamentary Committee; and secondly, in the case of boroughs and urban districts, the positive method of approaching Parliament directly by Private Bill. In either case the Local Government Board is distinctly subordinated to Parliament. In the case of the lesser authorities, it falls to the County Councils to make orders, to be confirmed by the Board, for the alteration of district and parish boundaries. How this is effected has already been set forth.1

In the period of transition which necessarily elapsed before the very serious anomalies could be removed, an exceptional state of things arose; for, under the Act of 1888, very large powers of organisation were given to the Local Government Board and the Commissioners appointed under the Act down to the 1st of November 1890.2 Until then the Local Government Board and the Commissioners were authorised to make any adjustments which seemed necessary on their own initiative; and it was not until after that date that the displacement of the Board took place, and that the statutory provisions previously described came into full operation.

The result, then, of this new legislation has been to contract rather than to expand the power of the Board to regulate the organisation of local areas. By displacing the Board the Legislature has devised a better means of accommodating local divisions to local interests. If the powers of the Foard over this province of its work be compared with those which it exerts as the supreme Poor Law authority, no doubt can remain that, so far as its sub-legislative functions are in question, the Acts of 1888 and 1894, instead of registering a growth of centralisation, mark a distinct advance in a new kind of decentralisation.

1 See pp. 73-75, and the provisions of the Acts of 1888 and 1894 herein referred to.

2 See sec. 61 sqq. of the Local Government Act 1888.

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at elections.

Over and above this power of regulating the territorial organisation of local government, the Board has a further important right of issuing general rules of a formal or constitutional character. To provide for every detail in the constitutions of the new local authorities by a statutory provision seemed neither practical nor desirable; and, accordingly, the arrangement of the new procedure at the Orders of reguelections of district and parish councils was lating procedure entrusted by the Act of 1894 to the Local Government Board. In compliance with the provisions of that Act, the Board issued seven lengthy Orders, prescribing with the utmost exactitude every step in the procedure. In this way a certain elasticity is secured, because it is so very much easier to withdraw or modify an Order than an Act of Parliament. But these "formal or "constitutional" Orders are to be distinguished from the Provisional Orders regulating boundaries which have been under discussion. The Orders. regulating procedure at elections are not provisional; nor are they identical with the general orders of Poor Law administration. They are purely technical developments and extensions of statutory provisions, and as such have been held not to require the approval of Parliament. It was considered that they could not possibly involve any element of serious controversy, and therefore the Orders were allowed to come into operation immediately after publication. The very narrowness of the limits imposed upon the exercise of this power forbids any attempt to fabricate a continental analogy; for the substance of the law of which these purely "formal" Orders treat and all its important details have already been prescribed in the statutes themselves; and all that the Board has had to do is to lay down practical rules for the different stages of electoral proceedings. From a constitutional point of view, the real importance of these Orders and their utility consist in the relief afforded to the Legislature. Parliament has thus been freed from the tiresome task of elaborating a multitude of petty provisions, and of setting up. by law an apparatus requiring from time to time small alterations, which themselves could only have been effected by new Acts of Parliament. Nor must it be forgotten that in the case of parliamentary and municipal elections the Legislature had already exercised

the casuistical skill of its draftsmen upon this very apparatus of electoral procedure; and really all that the Board had to do was to perform the mechanical task of adapting the older (statutory) machinery, with minor changes of detail, to the requirements of the newly constituted local authorities.

The direct

2. In the province of the material as distinguished from the formal and constitutional law of public health, the Local Government Board has other and more direct regulation of powers of sub-legislation, though they are small public health. compared with those which have been described in the preceding chapter upon Poor Law control. The most important of these powers relates to the exceptional case of an epidemic, which may constitute a formidable danger to the whole nation, and therefore demands national as well as local precautions. Section 134 of the Public Health Act of 1875 provides as follows:

1

Whenever any part of England appears to be threatened with, or is affected by, any formidable epidemic, endemic, or infectious disease, the Local Government Board may make, and from time to time alter and revoke, regulations for all or any of the purposes (namely) :—

(1) For the speedy interment of the dead; and

(2) For house-to-house visitation; and

(3) For the provision of medical aid and accommodation, for the promotion of cleaning, ventilation, and disinfection, and for guarding against the spread of disease;

And may by order declare all or any of the regulations so made to be in force within the whole or any part or parts of the district of any local authority.

Orders made under the above section are of practical urgency, and come into force without delay upon publication in the London Gazette. In other cases, Orders which bring the influence of the Board to bear directly on sanitary work must not only comply, like the above, with the precise words of the statute upon which they are founded, but must receive the approval of Parliament. The very form of the Order brings into sharp relief its strictly subordinate character, and the inferiority of a regulating Board to a legislating Parliament; for, as a rule, the Orders of the central authority have to be laid before Parliament for its express or silent

We except certain classes of Provisional Orders referred to on the preceding page.

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