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more numerous, and the powers possessed by such bodies became more ample. But no further change of constitutional importance need be noticed till the year 1872. In that year the whole of England and Wales, outside the metropolis, was divided into sanitary districts, urban or rural, each under the control of an elective governing body. This body in urban districts might be either (a) the council of a borough; or (b) improvement commissioners; or (c) a board of health. In rural districts it consisted of the guardians elected to look after the administration of the poor laws, who now had entirely new functions imposed upon them. The members of these various governing bodies were required to have a property qualification; the electorate was restricted to owners or occupiers of property; and their voting power varied according to the amount at which they were rated. Justices of the peace were ex-officio guardians of the poor, and so might become members of the rural sanitary authority without being elected. The votes, except in the case of municipal boroughs, all required a property qualification of some kind; but the nature of this qualification, and the number of votes which a voter could give, varied. The persons to be elected also were obliged to own property or pay rates, it being considered that those who administered public funds ought to have a personal interest in their good management.
The powers exerciseable by these various bodies differed greatly; and in many cases there were several elective bodies discharging administrative functions within the same district, independently of each other. The areas controlled by these different bodies were seldom conterminous. For instance, a poor-law union frequently extended over portions of two or more counties—a sanitary district might comprise portions of two or more unions, and a highway district might overlap the boundaries of all. This division of powers and confusion of boundaries naturally led to friction between the various
elective governing bodies, and to waste of public funds administered by them. But, on the whole, the country was managed in accordance with the views of the ratepayers who were the electors.
In 1888 local self-government was extended to the counties. Previously their affairs had been managed, with admitted efficiency and economy, by the justices in quarter sessions. But in that year their administrative powers were nearly all transferred to newly-constituted county councils, elected in the same manner as the councils of municipal boroughs, by the local government electors, that is practically by the occupiers, male or female, of rated premises. The persons qualified for election are the electors and owners of property in the county. No property qualification is required for county electors or county councillors; but the electors are left free to choose any one of their body in whom they have confidence. Women, however, are not eligible. Following the precedent of the Municipal Corporation Act, the councillors are elected for a term of three years, and themselves elect aldermen, who hold office for six years, and thus will presumably maintain the traditions of the council, and give a continuity to its proceedings. The chairman is elected annually by the members of the council, from among themselves or from persons qualified for election to the council. Besides the powers of justices in quarter sessions, county councils have considerable powers for controlling inferior administrative bodies within their counties, and have had conferred upon them certain functions previously discharged by departments of the central government, such as those of the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, and the Privy Council. These departments, however, as a rule, still retain the power to exercise these functions in cases where the county councils neglect or decline to use their powers.
Large towns with a population exceeding fifty thousand are
county boroughs, their corporations, in addition to their municipal powers, have all the powers of a county council, and are subject to no control from the council of the county in which they are situated; but of course they are subject to the central government.
The county councils, during the ten years in which they have existed in England, have generally attended to their legitimate work and discharged their duties satisfactorily. But undoubtedly they spend more money than did their predecessors, the justices in quarter sessions. The public, however, approves of these elective bodies, and their powers and importance will undoubtedly be increased rather than diminished in the future, especially by the delegation of further powers now entrusted to Government departments.
The system of elective bodies to control local affairs was completed in 1894, by the Local Government (Parish and District Councils) Act of that year.
It dealt with two distinct matters. The parish, though the oldest local unit known to our constitution, had not hitherto been endowed, eo nomine, with any specific machinery for the management of its local affairs. Parishes vary greatly in size and in individual requirements; and it had been thought that no general form of government suited to all could be devised. Parliament, however, undertook the task; and now each rural administrative parish is under the control, if its population is large, of an elected parish council ; if small, of a parish meeting, or of a committee appointed by such meeting. The matters confided to the parish council or meeting are carefully limited and enumerated; and their powers of spending the ratepayers' money are confined within narrow bounds.
The Act also effected several important changes in the government of the larger sanitary districts. The various governing bodies which had previously ruled them were abolished ; and, in their place, urban and rural "district
councils” were established for all places not included within the limits of a municipal borough. The councils of those boroughs remained unaltered ; and the election and constitution of the new district councils was assimilated to that already existing in boroughs and counties. Property qualifications were abolished, election in all cases is now by ballot, and the ex-officio members have ceased to have seats on any of these elective bodies. In district councils there are no aldermen, but the councillors are elected direct. They choose their own chairman annually.
Both the Act of 1888 and that of 1894 give large powers for correcting the anomaly and inconvenience caused by the boundaries of districts overlapping; and the latter Act contains an express provision that each sanitary district and poor-law union is to be in one county only. All district councils also are now, as urban sanitary authorities were previously, the highway authorities for their respective districts. The district council has, therefore, become in all cases a body discharging important functions, sufficient to attract the services of good men as its members. Such men are, in fact, usually found to be willing to serve.
The system of elective governing bodies, consisting of county, district, and parish councils, each with distinct functions and powers of levying rates, may now be considered complete. Further powers may in the future be conferred on some of these bodies; and it may become necessary to limit their spending powers, as is now the case with parish councils. But the framework may be considered as settled ; and does provide fairly well for the administration of local affairs by persons acquainted with the wants of the particular locality, without interfering with the management of larger matters by Parliament.
In Ireland the growth of local representative institutions has been slower than in England. And it cannot be said that hitherto such bodies as have been entrusted with governing
powers have always discharged their duties satisfactorily. Following the example of England, an Act for regulating municipal corporations was passed in 1840 (3 & 4 Vict. c. 108) ; and the larger towns became corporate boroughs with the functions prescribed by the Act, similar in most respects to those previously conferred in England. Smaller towns were placed under the charge of elective governing bodies termed commissioners, whose powers were defined by an Act passed in 1854 (17 & 18 Vict. c. 103). General provision for sånitary administration was not made till 1878, when a comprehensive Public Health Act, in the main copying the provisions of the English Act of 1875, was passed. Under it the guardians in rural unions were constituted a sanitary authority, and invested with functions hitherto unknown in rural districts; and the corporations of municipal boroughs, and town commissioners in other urban districts, were constituted the urban sanitary authorities.
The parish never was thought of as a possible administrative unit. But, owing partly to the fact that important towns are much less numerous than in England, the chief division for administrative purposes has always been the county.' As in England, representative governing bodies were established in smaller but more populous districts long before they were thought necessary for the counties. The functions discharged in England by the magistrates assembled in quarter sessions —and others besides—were discharged in Ireland by the grand jury at the assizes. Magistrates are appointed by the Crown, and form a numerous body in any county. Till recently they were usually men of some position, and as they held their office for life, the general body assembled in quarter sessions in England formed a permanent committee composed of the leading men in the county, and representing the interests of the ratepayers. A grand jury is a much smaller body, not exceeding twenty-three in number, and had not necessarily the qualification of permanence.