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PARISH AND DISTRICT

COUNCILS:

What they are and what they can do.

With a Postscript embodying recent alterations in the Law.

The public affairs of every Parish, Town and Poor Law Union in
England and Wales are now managed by Meetings and popularly
elected Councils or Boards. Almost all adult men and most women
who are householders are electors for these bodies, and are therefore
responsible for their doings; and every man and woman and child
in the kingdom is to a greater or less degree affected by the manner
in which they do their work. This tract does not deal with London
nor with County and Town Councils. It treats of the following local
governing bodies created or affected by the Local Government Act
of 1894,f namely:
1. Parish Councils, together with Parish Meetings in the larger

Parishes.
2. Parish Meetings without Parish Councils in the smaller

Parishes. 3. Urban District Councils in smaller towns and thickly popu

lated districts. 4. Rural District Councils, which have control in all places where

there are no Town Councils nor Urban District Councils. 5. Boards of Guardians which cover the whole of England and

Wales. 1 The powers and duties of these bodies, and the rules governing their election and proceedings, are far from simple, and many people do not yet fully understand them. This tract is intended as an attempt to explain them as clearly as possible to working men and women. But space does not allow everything to be stated as fully as might be desirable, and a large number of details have been put

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* For London Local Government see Fabian Tracts No. 61, “The London County Council," id., and No. 100, “Metropolitan Borough Councils," id.

† Many handbooks to the Act have been published. Among the cheaper of these may be mentioned the Practical Guide to the Parish Councils Act (Ward and Lock), price is.; and the Ready Reference Guide to the Parish Councils Act (G. Philip and Son), price 6s.; an excellent larger book is Haddon's Handbook (Haddon, Best & Co.), price gs.

| This tract does not deal with the Poor Law, but only with the manner of electing Boards of Guardians, and such of their duties as are not connected with the Relief of the Poor. See Fabian Tracts No. 54, "Humanizing of the Poor Law," and No. 127 "Abolition of Poor Law Guardians."

into very few words. If any part of the tract is not clear to any reader, or any point is omitted on which he wants information, he can write to the Secretary of the Fabian Society, 3 Clement's Inn, Strand, London, W.C., who will send him a full and clear answer free of charge. PART 1. METHODS OF ELECTION.

Who are the Electors. One set of rules decides who can take part in the election of all these bodies, that is to say, who can attend the Parish Meeting, and who may vote for Parish, Urban, and Rural District Councillors and Guardians. The persons who are entitled to vote in these elections are called “ Parish Electors”; and they can vote at all of them, and no one else can vote at any of them, or has the right to attend and take part in the Parish Meeting. A Parish Elector is any person, man or woman, married or unmarried, who is on the list of registered voters, either for Parliament or for the County Council ; or, in the case of married women, on the special list for the Parish. It makes no difference whether or not a person pays rates, or whether or not he has received poor relief." Those on the register can vote, and those not on it cannot. A person can be registered as an elector in every parish for which he is qualified ; and he can vote at the Parish Meeting and for the Parish Councillors in every such parish. But he can vote only in one ward of any one parish or urban district for Parish Councillors or Urban District Councillors; and only in one parish of any one union for Rural District Councillors and Guardians. In other words, he can vote only once in the election for any one Council.

Who can be Candidates. Any person who is an elector for any of these bodies may be a candidate for it. And any person, man or woman, married or single, who has resided within the parish or district for twelve months before the date of nomination, may be a candidate. The rules as to residence are as follows :-For Urban District Councils it must be within the Urban District. For Guardians and Rural Districts it must be within the Union of which the Rural District forms the whole or a part. For Parish Councils it must be in the parish or within three miles of its boundary. Residence cannot be exactly defined ; this, however, is certain, that any person who has had a bedroom which he generally uses, and always can use, for a year before the date of nomination, is a resident in that place.

Who cannot be Candidates. No one may be elected a Councillor who is under twenty-one, or who is not a British subject, or who has, within the last year, received poor law relief (even if only medical relief), or who has within the last five years been made bankrupt or imprisoned with hard labor for any crime (mere imprisonment as alternative to a fine

• But of course persons who have received poor relief (other than medical) will be liable to have their dames struck off the register at the next revision.

or for non-payment of rates, or of contribution to the Poor Law Guardians, does not disqualify), or who is concerned in any contract with the Council, or who holds any paid office under it. But a person holding a paid office from the Guardians or District Council can be elected a Parish Councillor, or a paid officer of the Parish Council can be elected a Guardian or District Councillor. And a paid officer of the Guardians can be an Urban District Councillor, and vice versa.

Moreover, a contract for letting or selling land does not disqualify. Therefore, persons who lease allotments to or hire them from a Council are not disqualified from being members of that Council.

How Candidates can conduct Elections. There is no limit to the expenses which candidates at these elections may incur for election addresses, meetings, &c. but all such expenses will have to be paid by themselves. Only the official expenses of the election will be paid out of the rates.

In Urban Districts, at elections of Councillors or Guardians, no meetings must on any account be held in public-houses, or Clubs with licences to sell intoxicants, or even in places where refreshments of any sort are sold. A candidate for whom or by whom a meeting is held in such premises can be unseated for illegal practices.

But this rule duws not apply to Rural Districts. In elections of Parish or Rural District Councillors, public meetings may be held in any place whatever ; but rooms in licensed premises or places where refreshments are sold must not be hired or used as Committee Rooms.

No money must be spent on hiring carriages or bands, or for flags, ribbons, torches, &c.

Every bill printed must bear the name and address of the printer and publisher.

Polling Agents. For Parish Council Elections one-third or more of the candidates, but no less number, may appoint one joint polling agent to look after their interests in the polling booth and to prevent fraud. For District Council and Guardians Elections, each candidate, if there are only two, or one-third of them or more if there are more than two, may appoint one agent. He may be paid or unpaid, but, if paid, he cannot vote. A candidate may be appointed polling agent.

Every polling agent must be appointed in writing, and the appointment must be sent to the returning officer two clear days before the poll.

No person may go into the polling place except the Presiding Officer and his clerks, policemen on duty, polling agents, and persons about to vote.

The Use of School Rooms by Candidates. In Rural Districts, candidates for District or Parish Councils have the right to use for election meetings any schoolroom which receives a Government grant, or any suitable room maintained out of the rates. But it has been held that the Parish Council or Meeting alone can demand the use of schoolrooms for this

purpose. The Parish Meeting in every parish should therefore appoint a small permanent committee with instructions to obtain the use of the schoolroom for any candidate who desires it. It is desirable as a rule to give a week's notice, and meetings can only be held at times which will not interfere with the ordinary use of the school. The persons making use of the rooms must pay the cost of lighting, etc. This right does not belong to Urban Districts unless they have obtained from the Local Government Board the powers of a Parish Council.

Elections at the Parish Meeting. Parish Councillors are nominated at the Parish Meeting on printed forms supplied by the overseers. Written forms are equally good if correctly made out. Each nomination must be signed by two Parish Electors. The law specially provides that no mistake in spelling or other error of that sort shall make a nomination invalid, provided it is quite clear who is the person nominated, and who nominates him. If the chairman decides that a nomination paper is valid, no one can afterwards object to it. If he wrongly decides that a nomination is invalid, it would be possible, though very expensive, to reverse his decision by an election petition. The nominations must be handed to the chairman, who must read them over in alphabetical order. A person nominated may withdraw at the meeting before the voting takes place, but not after it, unless a poll is demanded. Before the voting, any elector can ask questions of the candidates, and all candidates, whether electors or only residents, have a right to be present and to reply to the questions asked, and it is the duty of the chairman to allow time for this to be done. At the meeting the candidates are voted for by show of hands. Candidates, if electors, can vote for themselves, and practically electors can vote for as many candidates as they like; since, although the law says they must not vote for more than the number of Councillors to be elected, it gives the chairman no power to refuse any elector's vote.

Any one elector, but not a candidate, unless he is an elector, can demand a poll. Candidates can withdraw after a poll is demanded by a formal letter to the Returning Officer, up to six days before the poll. But the nominators of a candidate cannot withdraw him.

Elections by Ballot. All polls for Parish and District Councillors and Guardians are conducted under nearly the same rules. They are by secret ballot ; each elector can give one vote and no more to as many candidates as there are vacancies.

Casual Vacancies. Vacancies may be caused by a Councillor or Guardian dying, becoming disqualified through receipt of poor relief, bankruptcy, crime, &c. (see page 3), or by failing to attend meetings for six months consecutively (unless prevented by illness or some other

• See note, page 15

reason approved by the Council, or by resignation. A person who ceases to be qualified by ceasing to be a resident or an elector, can remain a Councillor until his term of office expires.

PART II. DESCRIPTION.

The Parish Meeting where there is no Council. In parishes of less than 3co inhabitants the governing body is usually the Parish Meeting. It must assemble at least twice a year. It must appoint at the annual meeting in March a chairman and two or more overseers, who together form the official body. Other meetings may be called at any time by the chairman or by any six electors. Documents must be signed by the chairman and two parish electors at the meeting. If the chairman be absent, another may be elected, who will, during that meeting, possess all the powers of the chairman. All Parish Meetings in parishes with or without a Council, must be held not earlier than six o'clock in the evening. This rule applies to Parish Meetings only, and not to meetings of any Council.

The Parish Meeting where there is a Council. This must meet at least once a year, within seven days of March 25th, to receive nominations for the Parish Council, and to elect it unless a poll is demanded.

The chairman of the Parish Council has the right to preside unless he be a candidate for the Council. If nominated as Councillor he must, unless he declines to stand, at once ask the meeting to choose another chairman. In that case, or if the chairman of the Council is absent, the meeting may elect as chairman any parish elector.

The Parish Meeting has many other very important duties. It must consider the accounts of every Parish Charity. It can refuse to pass them, and can appeal to the Charity Commissioners if they are not satisfactory. It must be consulted if the Council propose to spend more than a 3d. rate. No right of way can be stopped without its consent. It has to decide whether the village shall have a recreation ground and free library, lights in the street, and a new burial ground. It should appoint a committee to secure the use of the schoolroom for candidates for the Council, or for meetings to discuss allotments. It can appoint committees, and it can pass resolutions on any subject that concerns the parish or any part of it.

It is the Parliament of the village, which has the right to assemble at any time and to discuss and demand redress of any grievances which the villagers have. It can instruct the Parish Council (that is, its Executive Committee) to take any action which it thinks needful. Whatever the Parish Council can do, the Parish Meeting can discuss.

It can be summoned by demand of any six parish electors, or any two Parish Councillors, or by the chairman. The demand must be written, printed, or otherwise manifolded, and must be signed by the persons demanding the meeting. It must specify the time, place,

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