« PreviousContinue »
Toulmin Smith thereupon again takes the opportunity of criticising 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 athird time in the House of Commons. Tracing its fiarther history by the light ot_ the Remembmncer, 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 praoticableness, 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
‘ This statement seems to be made in forgetfulness of the provisions of the Mortmain Act, and the law affecting voluntary conveyance-s._En.
modern legislation that it should pass into an Act” (p. 115). On Tuesday, the 6th July, we see the bill was in committee. 9‘ Amendments made; report on Friday” (p. 120). Once more during the session the “Public Grounds and Playgrounds Bill" is introduced into the legislative mangle, and receives its last kick from the zealous and industrious commentator. On the 12th July, it is recorded, “ Report put off from to-morrow sine die. This bill has undergone much improvement since it came into the Lords. Both the points particularly named before (p. 95), have been removed. The bill no longer proposes to make as a new law that which already exists ; and the ‘ consent of two justices’ no longer interferes to destroy responsibility and efficiency, but the unmeaning red-tape obstructions remain. The ‘lords of the treasury,’ ‘ poor-law board,’ and ‘charity commissioners,’ are still brought in to meddle with public playgrounds in country towns and villages, and to interfere with the management of their own affairs, and disposition of their own property, by boroughs and parishes. There is not the shadow of propriety in this interference ; but such is the actual mistrust shewn in our day, while the pretence of progress and intelligence is so loud. Bodies like these cannot by possibility know any thing whatever of the affairs they are thus empowered to intermeddle with; and this interference can never be any other than an actual hindrance and frustration of the public good. The very method of their meddling, moreover, is secret, ea: parte, and in violation of every principal of honest right and of English judicial proceeding. But this mischievous legislation gives the opportunity to swell the statistical appearance of official doings ; and thus, by deluding the weak and unthinking to deem them important, the places and salaries of functionaries get themselves sustained and increased at the expense of the public; while public morality, efiicient action, and responsible self-respect, all suffer.”
The above extracts afford very fair samples of the particular parliamentary rnisfeasarzces which Mr. Smith delights in attacking, as well as his mode of exposing them. But we will add another,
which is also of considerable merit and interest. “The Highway Bill ” was a measure perfectly adapted to Mr. Smith’s criticism. He accordingly denounced it as proposing to effect a complete revolution in the oldest institutions of England. “ It has no preamble—no need for change being able to be stated as the ground of the bill. The parishes of England have from the oldest times been responsible for the highways within each of them ; and the highways have improved all over England, with the improvement in carriages and the growth of trafiic. In a country parish, where any thing besides the f-armer’s cart seldom goes or comes, a road is not needed such as is necessary in Pall Mall. The taxation of every parish for the repair of its road has hitherto been a parish affair, or the result of a direct parish election; and the accounts have been obliged to be laid before the parish vestry " (p. 13, sess. 1859). The Writer then proceeds to show how the bill proposes to hand over the control of the affairs of parishes in this important matter to the irresponsible justices of the peace, and the poor-law board; and how every constitutional principle is set at nought in this bill, both as regards institutions and taxation. Elsewhere, when treating of the same subject, he has the following remark :—“ The capacity, moral and intellectual, that enables men really and thoughtfully to exercise the franchise of parliamentary election, can never be got by instinct or act of parliament, nor can it be given by any amount of so called ‘ education’ of the right kind, however carefully and elaborately driven in, even on a Prussian model, by the stick of the drill-serjeant. It can only be got and given by that true education which the actual practice of free institutions yields. That practice consists not in names and forms, but in the habit of men meeting together, to consider, and discuss, and determine; whence is begotten the sense of mutual responsibility, and the feeling that there is something to be aimed at beyond what is merely personal and selfish, as well as a knowledge of what deliberation on every subject has to encounter. Within late years there has unhappily been an increasing and too successful attack made in England, by those seeking to plant here the continental doctrinaire system upon the institutions which ensured this habitual training; so that at this moment, though there may be more reading and writing, more book-knowledge in the land than heretofore, there is very far less of What is much more important—independence of thought and feeling, and the practical education of the free man. The present bill aims at striking down the most universal existing institutions in which the relics of that noble training system linger.
“Enlarging the franchise [referring to the proposed Reform bill], while cutting off men from the training school which teaches them how to exercise it, is merely plotting a scheme by which men shall be driven to the poll in herds, unintelligent, and the mere instruments of the selfishness of this or that designing man or faction. * * * " * * This system, which would do every thing for men, instead of calling upon the intelligence and responsibility of all men to do themselves what concerns them, does but olfer a bribe to sheer slothfulness and selfishness to shun the trouble of that exertion, whether of thought or action, which is necessary, in order to maintain the spirit of manliness, and the consciousness of independence, and the reality of selfrespect, as well as the course of true enterprise and sound progress. Despotism always covers its encroachments under the mask of some fair pretences. The worst forms of despotism is the silent enslaving of a nation by functionarism and bureaucracy. The means by which these foes to our institutions and liberties have made, and are still making, their way in England, are by continual appeals to the selfish interests and slothful tempers of men immersed in the eager pursuit of self-aggrandizement, or eager to swell their own self-importance.
“ It matters not whether designs and attempts such as these exhibit themselves in affairs of highway management or under any other cover. They are equally characteristic of a jesuitical and profligate system, most dangerous to the true interests and welfare of humanity, and Which, unstayed, will prove fatal to the liberties of Englishmen.”
The same sentiments are expressed, and the like doctrines expounded, on various occasions, not always, as we venture to think, with equal justice. It is a. truth of that character which is, in modern literary slang, called a. truism, that local self-government has all the advantages which Mr. Smith attributes to it. It has also, when applied in certain places, under certain circumstances, and to certain subjects, disadvantages. Vestries, local boards, parish meetings, aud borough assemblages, are not always governed by broad practical views, unjobbing practices, and timely dealing with necessary subjects. Hence bigotry, party and personal feeling, excessive selfishness and indifference, and stupid narrow-mindeduess, are, and have always been, qualilities by no means uncommon among bodies of the description in question In some matters, we may depend upon it, it is better that the legislating power and management should not be that immediately connected with particular local associations. A model parish managing its own affairs is an interesting exhibition of excellent government; but instances where the parochial management is in the hands of an overbearing squire and his unfortunate dependants, or of an acute local lawyer and
-his creatures, or even a majority of pigheaded farmers or small
shopkeepers, whose minds and fists are equally closed to all consideration except keeping down the immediate expenses—such pictures .as these, we say, are not equally pleasing.
Moreover, whether for good or evil we will not speculate, but times have much changed since the early periods of our social and political institutions. Parishes and districts are not isolated,
as of yore. Modern means of inter-communication have rendered
it not only possible but advisable to secure greater harmony of action over large areas, and more certain responsibility to central authority throughout the country, than was wont to be the case. Thus, local constables, for long the laughing-stock of thieves and tramps, are being gradually superseded by county constabulary—the old parochial pauper system has been succeeded by that of the new poor-law. The real problem of the day is not to preserve in their integrity all the institutions and the peculiar