VICTORIA (1880) TO GEORGE VI
A glance at the contents of this final section can hardly fail to give an impression of remarkable legislative progress. And the impression will be strengthened when it is realized that only a meagre selection of important acts is included here most of them in skeleton form. The work accomplished by the British parliament since 1880 has indeed been astonishing, not only in its bulk and variety, but also in its revolutionary character. Almost without exception the radical statutes of the previous fifty years have been superseded by others, infinitely more radical. For example, Disraeli's reform of parliament was first supplemented by Gladstone's measures of 1884-85 (no. 135A, B), and then entirely replaced by the Representation of the People Act of 1918. This in turn was amended by conferring complete equality of suffrage upon women (no. 137K.). Meanwhile the constitution of parliament had been altered by three other measures: one curtailing the ancient powers of the upper house, another permitting a member of the lower house to accept office under the crown without seeking re-election, and a third granting certain legislative powers to a Church of England assembly (no. 137A, E, G).
Equally great changes were made in local government by devising, after the pattern of municipal corporations, a uniform system of elected county councils and giving them the administration of the poor law, the care of public health, and numerous other functions (nos. 135D, 137L). But this was only one of many ways whereby the state was attempting to improve the material welfare of the people. Measures such as the Allotments Act of 1887 authorized boroughs to acquire land and build houses for occupation by labourers. Ten years later the Workmen's Compensation Act inaugurated a programme of social insurance, which in 1911 was extended to provide security against unemployment and sickness (no. 137B). The Trade Disputes Act of 1906 modified the law for the benefit of labour unions and so much so that in 1927 it was felt necessary to curb their political influence (no. 137J).
These, it should be remembered, are merely scattered examples of parliament's increasing activity in the economic sphere a socialistic tendency that has enormously widened the scope of the British government and has constantly imposed heavier burdens on its officials, both central and local. The routine work of administering the state has, in fact, grown so rapidly that much of it has had to be delegated to a variety of departments, commissions, and boards. And under the pressure of war or other emergencies, broad discretionary authority has been conferred on the executive (no. 137C, H). The creation of such agencies, ordinary or extraordinary, has inevitably raised many new questions of constitutional law, some of which are discussed in the reports of cases numbered 139B-E.
Of much greater concern to British subjects throughout the world has been the problem of imperial organization. Following the precedent set by the British North America Act of 1867, parliament in 1900 established the commonwealth of Australia, and in 1909 the union of South Africa. The constitutions of both dominions (nos. 135F, 136B) are here given in outline because the former, though federal, differs greatly from that of Canada, while the latter is fundamentally unlike the other two in not being federal at all. No attempt, however, has been made to set forth the complicated history of the Irish Free State, aside from presenting the agreement by which the dominion was first recognized and the judgment acknowledging its complete autonomy (nos. 137 I, 139F) an inevitable decision, once the recommendations of the imperial conference had been incorporated in the momentous Statute of Westminster (nos. 140, 137M).
In this section, as in those preceding, it has been impossible to trace the devious course of party politics. But a few vivid glimpses of the rival leaders in parliament can be obtained from no. 138, as well as a direct introduction to several famous controversies of the twentieth century. Still more recent developments are illustrated by the closing extracts in the book. No. 141 is a picture no less graphic because it is official of the British government in 1936. No. 142 contains, not only a very important statute, but also the most intimate account of the relations between king and cabinet that has ever appeared in a formal record. And it is wholly fitting that a volume dealing with English constitutional history should end with a document emphasizing its continuity. Despite all change of form, the coronation oath of
George VI remains substantially that of William and Mary, of Edward II, and of Edgar (nos. 120C, 55, 10).
Little by way of special bibliography needs to be given for this section. The following works, as distinguished from those cited above (p. 722), deal more particularly with recent developments: M. Amos, The English Constitution; F. A. Ogg, English Government and Politics; R. Muir, How Britain is Governed; W. I. Jennings, Cabinet Government; A. B. Keith, The King and the Imperial Crown; F. J. Port, Administrative Law; G. B. Adams, Constitutional History of England (concluding chapters in the revised edition by R. L. Schuyler).