THE FUNCTIONS OF GOVERNMENT

England had become a political unit before the Norman Conquest. By the middle of the fourteenth century England had a general or common law, and the main functions of government, those relating to the agricultural economy of the village apart, were vested in the central authorities that surrounded the king and in the king's local representatives. From this time we can speak of England as a 'State'.

The growth of the division of labour, which may also be described as the disappearance of subsistence agriculture, and which became marked in England with the development of the wool trade, did not of itself imply a corresponding increase in the functions of government. Some increase there was, of necessity. A more extensive system for maintaining order, some organization for the repair of roads and bridges, a development of the instruments for the settling of disputes and the imposition of taxation, were obviously required by the gradual breakdown of village self-sufficiency. Trade and commerce are, however, matters of private arrangement, and the State itself need do no more than provide the laws to regulate disputes, the judicial institutions to administer the laws, and the currency to serve as the instrument of exchange. It happens that in England the State went somewhat further, and was compelled to make some attempt to control the movement of labour. So long as labour was provided within the manor by labourers who themselves had interests in the land of the manor, the problem was one for the manor alone; but hired labour became more and more the practice as specialization developed, in ancillary trades as well as in agriculture itself, and labourers in search of work left their manors, with the result that the State interfered in the interests of public order and the needs of employers. This was especially so after the Black Death created a dearth of labour. Justices of labour were created to regulate labour, and were subsequently merged with the justices of the peace, who were originally concerned only with the apprehension of criminals.

By the sixteenth century the State had to concern itself far more than in the past with external relations, and at the same time it had not only to deal internally with 'wandering beggars' who were 'rogues and vagabonds', but also to provide poor relief; and the requirements of transport compelled more effective provision for the maintenance of roads and bridges. The result of further economic development was that in the eighteenth century the State had additional functions relating to the regulation of foreign trade, and the government of colonies. Moreover, though the foundation of the nation's economic life remained in the village, the towns became increasingly important.

The Industrial Revolution - falsely so named, because there was no clear break in the chain of development, and the use of steam-power merely accelerated the speed of change - altered the emphasis. Mining, iron smelting, and other industries became as important as agriculture. The domestic wool industry was superseded by weaving factories, and foreign trade developed the cotton industry. New methods of transport were developed. These changes did not in themselves require any new functions of government; indeed, the ideas of the time, especially after Adam Smith, were in favour of easing such governmental restrictions on trade and industry as already existed and of developing a system of free competition. There were, however, repercussions in the field of government. New roads, canals, and, in due course, railways were required. New ports and harbours were opened. Though some or all of these might be provided by private enterprise, the intervention of the State was necessary to enable land to be acquired, traffic to be regulated, roads crossed, bridges built, and so on.

The most important effect from a governmental aspect, however, was the congregation of vast numbers of inhabitants into towns, some of which were ancient market towns, some mere villages, and some entirely new growths where before agriculture had reigned supreme. The old methods by which the family had obtained its own water and disposed of its own sewage and refuse were dangerous to health in these great urban centres. New police forces had to be created, streets paved and lighted, refuse collected, and water supplies and main drainage provided. The existence of unemployment on a large scale created a new problem for the poor law. In particular it was recognized that ill-health was responsible for much unemployment and, therefore, for much expenditure on poor relief. On the one hand medical services and hospitals had to be provided, and on the other hand there was new agitation for preventive remedies-pure water, clean streets, good sewerage, and sewage disposal. Also, these remedies were not enough if a large part of the population spent most of its time in unhealthy factories and mines. Hours and other conditions of employment had to be regulated; and though this involved in the earlier experiments only restrictions on private enterprise, they were soon. found to be ineffective without State inspection.

Thus, while the State in the nineteenth century was freeing trade from the cumbersome restrictions of the eighteenth century, it proceeded to regulate industry both directly in the interests of public health and indirectly by providing services out of the produce of taxation. After 1867 sections of the working class had the vote, and the individualist principles which appealed to the middle class of the industrial towns became much less strong. Accordingly, the provision of services became part of State policy. It recognized, for instance, its responsibility for the education of the young and provided schools, not merely by subsidizing ecclesiastical bodies, as it had done since 1833, nor merely for the benefit of 'pauper children', but directly through the local authorities and for the benefit of all children. There was, too, a general and progressive reform of all the public services, and new services, such as housing, transport, and electricity, were provided. In the present century the pace of development has accelerated; and while on the one hand existing services have been expanded, new services like pensions, insurance, and broadcasting have developed; and since 1945 some of the services formerly provided by private enterprise have been taken over by the State.

(From The law and the constitution by Ivor Jennings)