Hanoverians - C. J. B. Gaskoin

Government of England: Justice, Defence, and Taxation

1. The Law Courts

Certain functions of government are purposely not entrusted to local and popularly elected bodies, but kept entirely in the hands of the central authority.

One of these is the administration of justice, and here the wisdom of the rule is plain. For the less a judge depends for his position on those who may have to be judged by him, the less likely he is to judge unjustly for fear of punishment or hope of reward. Hence, except where elected officers, such as Mayors, or Chairmen of County or District Councils, are magistrates by virtue of their posts, judicial officers, from the Lord Chancellor to the Justice of the Peace, are appointed by the Central Government. Yet Judges cannot be dismissed—even by the King—except for misconduct, unless both Houses of Parliament ask for their dismissal. Thus they are free from intimidation by the Government as well as by the people.

The highest court in the land is the House of Lords, which hears appeals from all parts of the United Kingdom. Then comes the Supreme Court of Judicature, in London, which deals with cases of all kinds. And from this court, several times a year, the Judges go out in pairs "on circuit," as under Henry II, to country towns all over England and Wales. The High Sheriff, in his coach with four horses, driven by a coachman in a powdered wig, and attended by footmen and javelin men and trumpeters, meets them in great state. All the criminal and civil cases awaiting trial in the county are brought before them in the court. And there appear the juries summoned to give every accused person the opportunity of having the question of his guilt or innocence decided not by a single government official, however upright and learned, but by twelve of his fellow citizens giving their "verdict" as jurymen.

Besides the Judges of the Supreme Court, there are many others of smaller dignity yet of great importance. The County Court Judges hear civil cases, especially actions for debt, throughout the kingdom. Recorders and Stipendiary Magistrates hear criminal cases in large towns. London has a great Central Criminal Court. And thousands of Justices of the Peace, in Petty and Quarter Sessions, settle countless small criminal cases, and prepare greater cases for trial by higher courts.

2. The Armed Forces of the Crown

Admirality board


Another duty reserved to itself by the Central Government is the control of the armed forces of the Crown.

Army and Navy alike are now manned by voluntary enlistment; although even in the Napoleonic wars sailors were "pressed," or seized by force, for service, and in almost every foreign country military service for some years is compulsory. The Navy—though containing far fewer ships than in Nelson's day—is a far stronger fighting force. For the "wooden walls of England" have given place to walls of steel, and sails to steam. So the modern man-of-war is infinitely larger and stronger and faster—and more expensive!—than its predecessors. And the torpedo-boat, the torpedo-boat destroyer, the submarine, and the naval airship are types of vessels unknown when Trafalgar was won.

The army, though nearly 170,000 strong, is very small compared with the huge forces of Continental Powers. For England relies chiefly on her navy: moreover, an army raised by voluntary enlistment is extremely costly. Yet, though small, it is of the finest fighting quality.

The Household Cavalry (Life Guards and Horse Guards) and the four regiments of Foot Guards (Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, and Irish) represent the oldest part of the army—the Guards of Charles II—and rank before all others. But there are besides nearly thirty cavalry, and more than twice as many infantry, regiments "of the line." The cavalry, called Dragoons, Hussars, and Lancers, are distinguished by numbers. Each infantry regiment takes its title from the county or smaller district where it has its headquarters, and from which it draws most of its men. And cavalry and infantry alike bear on their standards the names of battles and campaigns in which, from the Seven Years' War to the War in South Africa, they won renown.

In addition there are special corps for special services—Engineers, Artillery (Horse, Field, and Garrison), the Flying Corps, Transport and Medical Corps, and, last, the Marines, half soldiers and half sailors, whose business is to live on board ship but fight, when required, on land. The army (like the navy) has a Reserve. This contains many men who have been for some years "on active service," but also others who have had merely six months' military training, followed by a short course every succeeding year. The Reservists receive a small pay, and may be called on in war to fill gaps in the ranks of regiments going abroad, or supply the reinforcements as the war proceeds.

Last of all comes the Territorial Force—infantry and yeomanry—which has replaced the older Volunteers and Yeomanry. Its business is home defence, not foreign service, and, though, as in the Reserve, each man must be trained for a few days every year, a six months' training is required in this case only if war causes the force to be called out. It is supposed that a great war would allow time for this training to make the Territorials useful soldiers before the country could be invaded. The force in each county is managed by a "County Association," generally headed by the Lord-Lieutenant, which endeavours to obtain recruits, encourage good shooting, and provide training-grounds, and for these purposes receives money, under strict conditions, from the War Office.

The whole system of imperial defence is watched over not only by the First Lord of the Admiralty with his Admiralty Board, and the Secretary for War with his Army Council, but by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. Here the Premier and the Ministers of the Departments concerned meet experienced officers of rank representing the Army, the Navy, the Colonies, and India, but unconnected with party politics.

And to this Committee Parliament and the nation look for assurance that the country is safe in peace and strong for war; that her army and her navy are well manned and armed, and fed and clothed, and cared for; that the harbours which serve as coaling-stations for her ships throughout the world are properly protected and equipped; that all possible information is obtained as to the strength and objects of all who may be her enemies; and that the best possible arrangements are made between the Mother Country and her colonies for mutual protection.

3. The Cost of Government

Last, but not least, comes the great question of money. To the ordinary man the most disagreeable of public duties is paying rates and taxes—one to the local authorities, the other to the central government. He does not, indeed, feel the burden of taxation so keenly when it takes the form of having to give, perhaps, a few extra pence for every pound of tea, or a few more shillings for every pound of tobacco or bottle of wine, as when he receives a point-blank demand for so many pounds or shillings on a certain day. He may, as a matter of fact, have to pay really more in the first case, but he notices it less, and therefore is less discontented. So all Governments raise much of their revenues by customs or excise, and in England an enormous sum is provided simply by taxes on tobacco and intoxicating drinks.

But—especially in a country with Free Trade, like England—the customs revenue is far too small to meet all the expenses of government. So there are income duties—perhaps 9d. or Is. or Is. 2d. for every pound of income that a man enjoys over 160 a year, the rate rising as his riches increase; land taxes and house duties, paid on the annual value of lands and houses; death and estate duties, paid when a man's property passes to others by his death, the rate here being especially high if the property is large and the new owners are not near relatives of the old; stamp duties, paid for stamps required to make legal documents binding; and licence duties, paid for certain privileges, such as the right to use a crest or coat of arms, or have men-servants, dogs, guns, carriages, or motor-cars.

These and other smaller taxes amount to a vast sum every year, and almost every year the amount increases. So there is often grumbling about the heavy burden and every Government would like to win popularity by remitting taxes. Yet it is rarely that any Government can do so, for, but for the taxes, and the profit which the Government makes out of the Post Office and out of the Crown Lands—which each sovereign in turn hands over for his life in exchange for a fixed income—there would be neither peace nor order, nor safety, nor convenience. The tax-collector is an unpopular man; but, if there was no tax-collector, there would also be no policeman, no judge, no soldier, no sailor; there would be no pensions for ex-servants of the Government or for poor and aged people; there would be, indeed, no Government and no King.