« PreviousContinue »
provides what we find in Mr. T. Smith's publication, which professes to afford the reader a carefully prepared summary of the actual proceedings of parliament, with explanatory notes of the real nature of all the proposed bills brought before the Houses, and an analysis of such as affect the interests of municipal bodies, local authorities, and parishes. A multitude of measures, urges Mr. Smith, are being continually introduced, which threaten the efficiency of our national institutions, and affect important interests of society, directly and indirectly, but which fail to attract attention and due discussion, and lead to much mischief, simply because they are unobserved and unwatched. In the Preface to the first volume it is affirmed, and we believe with great justice, that "no bill has gone through a second reading, and no public measure has been brought before parliament, without its nature and the interests and institutions it touches (aside from all party considerations), having been pointed out, with such historical and other illustrations as seemed most useful." Whilst the "Votes" alone of the two Houses of Parliament will, if supplied through the post, cost about six guineas, the "Parliamentary Remembrancer" gives for one guinea much more than these "Votes" contain, and in a convenient and intelligible form.
The contents of the Parliamentary Remembrancer may be divided into two parts; that which consists of the record of the actual doings in the legislative assemblies (as distinguished from the talkings and personal and party manœuvres), and that which embraces Mr. T. Smith's commentary on the measures introduced.
It is but a repetition of a common-place truth when we say, that if the public were alive to the danger and mischief accruing from our present absurd, random, and ill-advised legislation, or could accurately appreciate the time wasted and the ignorance evinced in the attempts at legislation, these evils would be in some measure abated.
But in the confusion of a parliamentary session, and the various technicalities in the proceedings of the Houses, even the vigilant politician often loses sight of some measure which may be maturing when he supposes it has dropped,
or be altered and deformed when he assumes it is progressing in its integrity. But, worse than this, it not unfrequently happens that, under some inappropriate, delusive, or utterly foolish title, an honourable and independent member is gently and silently conducting through its various stages a bill of the nature of the one which L. J. Knight Bruce once inquired for in court, viz., a short bill to repeal the whole law of Great Britain and Ireland." An authentic, clear, and accurate description, then, week by week, of every step taken or proposed in regard to every measure introduced into the Houses, with either a hint as to its real objects, or an analysis of its clauses, is invaluable to all concerning themselves with public affairs.
What strikes the mind very forcibly, in perusing in these two volumes the record of the deeds and misdeeds of our law-makers, is the small proportion which the annual genuine legislation bears to what are only patchwork, temporary expedient, mere experiment, or abortive attempts at passing statutes for this realm. Another remarkable circumstance, rendered very palpable by the Remembrancer, is the utter disproportion between the talking reported in the daily papers, and the work which we see positively accomplished. A third observation will also naturally occur with regard to the great mass of private and local bills by which the Houses are unduly encumbered. Again, it will not escape notice how hard it is for an independent member of parliament to pass a good measure, and how easy it is for a government to push a bad one through parliament. A few examples of legislation, which we will presently cull from the pages before us, will be, we think, of interest to our readers.
With respect to the commentary which Mr. Toulmin Smith applies to the subjects brought before him, in the pursuance of his laborious duties of watching and notifying the parliamentary proceedings, the reader of the Remembrancer will perceive that, whilst the learning and research shown on many occasions, establish a claim upon his respect and attention for all the criticism which the careful writer puts forward; yet Mr. Smith is a good deal haunted by certain "black beasts," on which he makes
furious and frequent onslaught. His dread and suspicion of these legislative abominations detract a little from the value of his remarks. We refer more particularly to Mr. Smith's disgust for "functionarism," centralisation of government, and interference with local self-management, and other modern innovations, which he deems an unconstitutional and mischievous tampering with the rights of Englishmen. We regret the indiscriminate criticism sometimes indulged in, because the principles which he lays down with reference to these matters are for the most part sound, and his remarks very just. The following extracts afford a fair example of certain leading doctrines which Mr. Smith holds with regard to legislation, and of the form in which he states and illustrates the matters before him :
"Wednesday, 2nd June, 1818.-PUBLIC GROUNDS AND PLAYGROUNDS BILL.—Read second time. Committee on Wednesday next.--The excellent object of this bill is proposed to be carried out in a way which is practically unsound, and must do even worse than defeat its usefulness. It proposes that lands shall be conveyed to trustees, and further encumbers the matter with a number of red-tape conceits, and approvals of charity commissioners, lords of the treasury, and poor-law commissioners; the whole of which is nothing more nor less than a system of processes for extracting fees and promoting jobbery, and is based upon the entirely modern idea, that the affairs of the people of England cannot be trusted to those concerned in them to be taken care of, but must be coddled in the hands of paternal functionaries. Section 5 actually declares that a parish vestry shall not appropriate parish property to the purposes of this bill without the consent of the poor-law board. The whole of these provisions in the bill are a very unbecoming imputation upon the common-sense of the country, and a declaration of universal mistrust of those whom the bill professes to desire to benefit.
"The practical course would be to declare the power of every borough, and of every parish, to appropriate, purchase, or accept, and to hold in its corporate capacity, any lands for these purposes.
This would be in accordance with long-tried experience and with sound principle. Experience has long ago so thoroughly proved the mischief that follows from the trustee system, that parliament forty years ago (as ought to have been known to the proposers of the bill) enacted, that all lands belonging to any parish shall be held vested in the churchwardens and overseers for the time being, and their successors, in the nature of a body corporate, and on behalf of the parish (59 Geo. III. c. 12, s. 17); an enactment which was directed to meet and remedy the palpable mischiefs that had followed the gradual growth, arising out of an unfortunate mistake, of the trustee system. See the whole subject fully examined in 'The Parish,'1 (second edition), pp. 266-287. Even now a parish committee manages every parish burial ground, but no such local body is fit, this bill assumes, to manage playgrounds for the living.
"From the oldest times every parish in the land was bound to have a place for public exercise and recreation for its youth and other inhabitants, (see 'The Parish,' pp. 497, 519, note, &c.) It is by the neglect of even a knowledge of the facts and spirit of our institutions, which the paternal system so fashionable in our day has caused to grow up, that this wholesome practice has been universally, and their places themselves too often, lost to those whom they would now so much benefit. The general enclosure acts, however, contain provisions recognising the importance of maintaining village greens, and of securing allotments for purposes of public recreation.
"If the old law and practice on this subject were to be examined, together with the acts that have been alluded to, a valuable practical measure might be framed without difficulty. But the above bill, though excellent in intention, can only prove abortive for its direct object; while in other respects it will, from the nature of its provisions, be itself demoralizing” (p. 87).
On 11th June, the bill having been amended, it came again before the House of Commons for its consideration.
1A work by Mr. Toulmin Smith, in which the history, constitution, rights, and powers of the parish are treated.
Toulmin Smith thereupon again takes the opportunity of criti cising the handiwork of its promoters as follows (p. 95). "The ' amendments' made in this bill have only made it more anomalous than before. In amending' the bill, it has been attempted to embody some of the suggestions made in the Parliamentary Remembrancer (p. 86). But this has been done in a manner that shows conclusively what was then surmised, that the bearing of the subject was not understood by the framers of this bill. The bill as it stands is mere supererogation, as land can now be conveyed to 1 and held by trustees as an open playground, just as well as it can be under the bill. It interposes a number of unmeaning red-tape obstructions in the way of any parish moving in a matter so desirable. It is inconsistent and unintelligible in several of its provisions. Finally, the power to the 'directors and managers' (whoever these may mean) to make rules and regulations, with the consent of two justices (sec. 7), sums up in two lines the spirit and departure from commonsense and practicalness which mark the whole of this ill-considered bill."
We find in the Remembrancer, that on the 14th June the order for the third reading of this bill was discharged, "to be recommitted on Wednesday;" on which Mr. Smith justly observes, "the taking of this course is an admission of the carelessness with which the bill has been prepared." The bill, amended in many points, was eventually read a third time in the House of Commons. Tracing its further history by the light of the Remembrancer, we find it read a second time in the Lords, but it had "undergone some further alteration. In consequence of the defects already pointed out, the playgrounds are now to be vested in the churchwardens and overseers, as a body corporate. But the bill still has, in other respects, such inherent defects, and shows such a want, not only of practicableness, but of an appreciation of what is due to the self-respect and intelligence of local bodies, that it will be unhappy for the credit of
1 This statement seems to be made in forgetfulness of the provisions of the Mortmain Act, and the law affecting voluntary conveyances.-ED.