This is a study of local government and permissive legislation in nineteenth-century Britain. It argues that permissive legislation facilitated local initiative and debate, and that local initiatives were often more effective than national legislation. In the eighteenth century, every locality which wished to improve or police its streets had to obtain its own private Act of Parliament. By the nineteenth century, when the construction of a
habitable urban environment had become a matter of urgency, Parliament had recourse to `permissive' or `adoptive' legislation, which the localities were free to adopt, or not, as they chose. Parliament facilitated, but did not require, local action, and so long as initiative and responsibility remained
in local hands, relations between central and local government were relaxed. In the 1850s and 1860s, the House of Commons conceived itself to be an imperial parliament, not a vestry, and Local Boards thought of themselves as parliaments in miniature. Thereafter Parliament's preference for a permissive system gradually yielded to a concern with equality of provision. Twentieth-century historians have largely written from the point of view of the centralizers and the
permanent officials in the Department of State. Liberty and Locality puts the emphasis back upon Parliament, where the decisions were taken, and the localities themselves, where their consequences were felt.
'His analysis of the functioning of parliament offers a fresh and stimulating insight on the importance of a national legislative assembly in mid-Victorian governing arrangements ... he has provoked a good deal of thought and the book will be essential reading for some time to come.'
Alan O'Day, Polytechnic of North London, History, Feb '92
'he demonstrates, with clarity and objectivity, the overwhelming significance of what took place at local level, whether it was action or inaction, altruistic idealism or selfish calculation'
W.R. Cornish, The Journal of Legal History, Volume 12, No. 3, December 1991
'well researched and finely written study of nineteenth-century rural protest ... Reay writes ... with elegance and clarity, integrating the quantitative findings of his family reconstitution study with analysis of popular participation in the revolt ... The narrative descriptions (based on family reconstitution data) of the participants and what became of the survivors are among the most innovative and moving parts of the book, and help make it a
genuine tour de force of anthropological history.'
Albion M. Urdank, Southern History, XIII
'John Prest produces some tricky missing pieces to help full in the picture of the functioning of central-local government relations. ... a number of subtle and important conclusions are drawn.'
Valerie Cromwell History of Paliament, London. EHR Feb '94
Abbreviations; Parliament and the localities; The Isle of Wight; Huddersfield and District; Local and central government; Index