Miscellaneous Powers

14. County Council Services

Miscellaneous Powers and Duties

REGISTRATION OF BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS

THIS Service which must affect everyone at least twice in a lifetime, though a national one, is administered locally by the County Council which is responsible for the appointment and payment of the registrars and for the provision of their offices. Although they carry out their duties under the direction of the Registrar-General, they are under the immediate disciplinary control of the Clerk of the County Council.

Middlesex is divided into eight registration districts, at the head of each of which is a superintendent registrar, who conducts civil marriages at the district register office as well as exercising general supervision over the work of his district and keeping all its completed registers of births, deaths and marriages. He has a staff of registrars of marriages who register a marriage but take no other part in its solemnization. The eight districts are divided into a total of twenty-four sub-districts for the registration of births and deaths, each with its own registrar for those purposes and these officials, in common with all other registration officers, are entitled to “attest” a notice of marriage. About 50 per cent of the cost of the registration service is met by the fees paid by the public, the balance having to be paid for out of the local rates.

BYELAWS

Good Rule and Government. Under the Local Government Act, 1933, the County Council is entitled to make byelaws “for the good rule and government” of the urban districts in the County; in the boroughs this power is vested in the borough councils. Such byelaws must, however, be confirmed by the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. County byelaws now in force in the Middlesex urban districts require, inter alia, that vehicles should be correctly loaded so that no part of their loads falls on to the highway to the danger of traffic and that no mud, clay, etc., shall be allowed to adhere to a vehicle’s wheels and so cause danger to persons using a street or injury to the surface of the street. There are also bye-laws designed to prevent the following nuisances in public places:-

(i) the deposit on highways, etc., of wastepaper litter or of broken glass, nails, etc., likely to be dangerous to persons and animals; also of tree or hedge clippings (beyond one hour after sunset); the throwing down of orange peel, etc., and the disturbance of contents of dustbins;

(ii) roller skating and riding of bicycles, etc., on footways and dangerous, obstructive or “annoying” use of perambulators on footways;

(iii) fouling of footways by dogs (when in someone’s charge) and defacement of pavements by writing on them;

(iv) the use of threatening or indecent language in public places and of violent behaviour on school premises; fighting and jostling, spitting, shouting for advertising purposes, etc., and touting, playing of offensive or dangerous games, throwing of stink bombs, fireworks, etc.;

(v) destruction of wild plants;

(vi) playing of musical instruments near churches, hospitals or houses to the annoyance of occupants (except by Forces’ bands and bands playing with consent of the county or urban district council) ; operation of wireless loudspeakers, gramophones, etc., noise from organs in fairgrounds, and the keeping of noisy animals;

(vii) gipsy encampments within 300 yards of houses;

(viii) bathing without adequate covering, within 200 yards of streets, etc.;

(ix) keeping or management of shoot ing galleries, to the danger of the public or traffic;

(x) carrying of soot, carcasses, offal, etc., without proper covering;

(xi) driving or leading of bulls not properly secured or controlled;

(xii) signs projecting over streets;

(xiii) loitering at church doors.

Other Byelaws. Apart from good rule and government byelaws, the County Council also has power, under the statutory provisions dealing with certain specific functions, to make other byelaws. Such byelaws apply throughout the County and make provision as follows :-

(i)The prohibition of the employment in street trading, except with the appropriate licence, of children and young persons under 17, and of the employment in barbers’ shops, fried-fish shops, eating-houses, billiard saloons, public-houses, theatres, cinemas, slaughter-houses, race-tracks and on window-cleaning of children who are not above the compulsory school age of 15.

(ii) The regulation of employment

agencies. (Employment agencies also must be licensed and this is referred to on Public Control Inspection.)

(iii) The regulation of the sale of coal and coke and the registration of persons selling the same. These byelaws arise out of the Council’s functions as the weights and measures authority for the County.

HOUSING LOANS

Up to the time of the second world war the County Council had made loans by way of mortgage, totalling over £6,000,000, to persons desiring help in the purchase or erection of their own houses. Since the war this service has been resumed and a total of more than £2,000,000 has been advanced, the yearly amount being now about £500,000.

LOCAL TAXATION AND MINOR EXCISE LICENCES

Local taxation licences are necessary for keeping a dog, employing a gamekeeper, carrying a gun, killing or dealing in game and are obtainable at any post office, but may also be obtained from the County Council. The County Council is also responsible for the issue of the minor excise licences which are not issued by post offices and which are required by hawkers, pawnbrokers, refreshment-house keepers and money-lenders. In all these cases it is the County Council’s duty to ensure that the necessary licences are taken out and renewed. All these functions are carried out by the Local Taxation Department in which are employed, inter alia, a staff of inspectors and enquiry officers who work from three local offices situated at Brentford, Tottenham and Willesden.

When necessary, of course, the County Council prosecutes offenders in the courts, but in certain cases it is empowered to impose monetary penalties, the payment of which avoids the necessity for Court proceedings.

MOTOR VEHICLE LICENSING AND REGISTRATION

The County Council, through its Local Taxation Department, is also responsible for the registration and licensing of all motor vehicles kept in the County and for issuing driving licences to County residents, including provisional licences to enable a person to learn to drive pending a driving test. Renewals of existing vehicle licences (but not driving licences) are also normally obtainable at post offices but only within a period of 14 days before and after the date of their expiry. For registration and licensing purposes, the person keeping and using a motor vehicle is regarded as its owner, and once a vehicle has been registered, all changes of ownership, as well as changes in the use or description of the vehicle, must be reported and duly recorded. Factors which have to be considered before a vehicle is licensed include its ownership, construction and use—and the weight of goods vehicles is checked, as the licence duty varies according to their unladen weight. No licence duty is payable for fire engines, ambulances, road rollers, invalid carriages and road construction vehicles, but they all have to be registered, while special arrangements exist in regard to vehicles of motor traders, etc. As regards motor-drivers, there are special provisions made for disabled drivers, while certain prescribed diseases and disabilities are a total bar to the grant of any driving licence.

Appropriate action is of course taken against persons who fail to comply with the law and when necessary they are prosecuted in the Courts. There are about 230,000 motor vehicles licensed in the County and about 400,000 driving licences of all kinds are issued by the County Council each year, about one person in every seven in Middlesex being in possession of such a licence.

PUBLIC CONTROL INSPECTION, LICENSING AND REGISTRATION

Licensing of Employment and Nurses’ Agencies. Persons or bodies who carry on employment agencies for any kind of employment and whether for profit or not must be licensed by the County Council, and must conform with certain regulations designed for the protection of the public, as mentioned on page 224, with respect to byclaws. Domestic servants, for example, are so scarce in comparison with the number required that, if there were no restrictions, unscrupulous people might take unfair advantage of employers willing to pay commissions to agencies for providing them with servants, while persons who are seeking employment—for instance, those from abroad—often need protection. Another category of prospective employee which especially requires protection includes singers, actors, dancers, etc., who might be induced, for instance, to pay excessive fees to secure introductions to theatrical employers, were there not some system of licensing and restriction. The same legal provisions do not apply to agencies for the supply of nurses, for which special legislation exists. This duty, however, is also administered by the County Council which issues the necessary licences for these agencies, which are not in fact always agencies in the true sense of the word so much as the actual employers of the nurses who are sent out to patients. In other respects the licensing arrangements are very similar to those concerning other employments. Inspection of agencies and enforcement of the law is carried out by inspectors of the Public Control Department in collaboration, in the case of the nurses’ agencies, with the County Medical Officer of Health. There are about 75 licensed employment agents in Middlesex and g nurses’ agencies.

Explosives Storage, Licensing and Registration. For reasons of safety, it is against the law to keep explosives (except for private use) in any premises which are not registered or licensed for the purpose. The County Council is mainly concerned with the registration of retail shops which keep fireworks, ammunition, etc., for sale. There are certain cases in which the Council is the licensing authority for stores of explosives, such as those kept at quarries for blasting, and it also may issue licences for small firework factories. The assent of the County Council is also required before application is made to the Home Secretary for an explosives factory or magazine licence. The chief criterion as to whether registration, a store licence or a magazine or factory licence is required is the quantity and nature of the particular explosive desired to be kept. Inspection and enforcement of the law are a matter for the inspectors of the Council’s Public Control Department. The total number of premises registered in Middlesex is over 2,000, there being, in addition, one store licence in force and six factory or magazine licences issued by the Home Secretary.

Inspection of Food and Drugs and Merchandise Marking. People buying food are able to judge to some extent whether they get what they want, but few people are able to verify that it is of the correct quality or does not contain some undesirable ingredient, such as a harmful chemical preservative, or is not otherwise adulterated. For example, it is not easy to tell if milk has had some of the cream removed or has been diluted with water. Also, a cheaper type of food may be substituted for a more expensive article— for instance, when margarine is sold as butter or a large haddock is sold as “hake “—while foreign produce, such as meat, poultry or fruit, can be sold as English.

It is the County Council’s duty to enforce the various Acts of Parliament which exist for the protection of the public in these matters and it does so through its inspectors and other officers in the Public Control Department, with the aid of the expert advice of the County Analyst after examination of samples in his laboratory, although many samples of different foods, especially milk, are tested by the officers of the Department.

Flagrant offenders against these laws are of course prosecuted by the County Council in the Courts, but often it is sufficient for an inspector to give advice or a word of warning to a shopkeeper, especially when his breach of the law is unintentional and is not likely to result in any great harm being done.

Registration of Exhibitors and Trainers of Performing Animals. Persons residing in Middlesex who train or exhibit performing animals for the purposes of public entertainment must register with the County Council, which sends a copy of each registration to the Home Office for central records for the whole of the country. A person liable to register who fails so to do may be prosecuted and subjected to heavy penalties. Invertebrate creatures are not regarded as animals for these purposes. About a dozen registrations are in force in Middlesex.

Poisons Registration. The control of the sale of poisons is shared between the County Council and the Pharmaceutical Society and the various rules and regulations applicable to particular types of poisons are extensive and complicated. Broadly speaking, the County Council is concerned only with keeping a list of shopkeepers, other than chemists, selling poisons enumerated in Part II of the Poisons List (a schedule prepared by the Home Office) and with ensuring that they are stored, labelled and sold in a proper manner. “Part I” poisons are those which may only be sold by pharmacists registered with the Pharmaceutical Society. “Part II” poisons are, generally speaking, those such as ammonia, carbolic disinfectants and the like which are used for domestic purposes, but they also include such things as weed-killers and insecticides for the use of gardeners and there are more stringent regulations in regard to these. Inspection of premises and enforcement of the law is another function of the inspectors of the Public Control Department and serious offenders are prosecuted in the Courts. The total number of listed sellers of ” Part II poisons in Middlesex is about 3,000.

Registration of Theatrical Employers. Any person residing in Middlesex who employs three or more theatrical performers must register with the County Council, particulars of each registration being sent by the Council to the Home Office, which keeps records of registrations for the whole country. Before registering, an employer is required to give notice of his intention in at least two theatrical papers. The Act of Parliament requiring these registrations was designed to prevent abuses which existed as a result of disreputable or financially unsound persons carrying on theatrical businesses, one of the greatest causes of complaint being such persons absconding when touring with a play which they found was not a success and leaving their companies stranded without their salaries and even, in some cases, the means to pay their fares back to their homes. The total number of theatrical employers now registered in Middlesex is about 500.

Weights and Measures Inspection and Verification. If inaccurate weights and measures were used in commercial transactions there would be no confidence between buyers and sellers and it is just as important that the correct weight should be given when selling 2 oz. of sweets as it is when delivering a ton of coal. It is a criminal offence to sell short weight or short measure of food, or to sell short weight of coal or coke, but there are many other commodities to which the Weights and Measures Acts do not apply, for example, tobacco, hay or wood, and the buyer of such articles must take his own steps to see that he obtains full weight or measure. The inspectors of weights and measures in the County Council’s Public Control Department make sure, however, so far as they can that all weights and scales and measuring instruments used for sale purposes in Middlesex are accurate. This applies to the tiny weights used by chemists and jewellers just as it does to weighbridges which can weigh 50 tons or more at a time and includes measures for only a few minims as well as petrol pumps which may measure hundreds of gallons in a day. It is not enough that appliances shall be accurate when they are first made but they must be kept in good condition and used properly and the inspectors, by periodical inspection and testing, ensure that this is done. As in the case of other services for the protection of the public, those persons who seriously offend against the laws are brought before the Courts for punishment.

REFUSE DUMPS CONTROL

In a densely-populated county like Middlesex the health of the people and the environment of their homes must be protected against the unrestricted dumping of large quantities of house and other refuse on open ground. Being so close to the metropolis, the former rural areas of the County had become a convenient dumping ground for much of London’s refuse and so the County Council obtained power from Parliament to control the deposit, in any particular district of the County, of refuse brought from outside. Before anyone can now proceed to dispose of refuse in this way he must obtain the consent of the County Council and also of the borough or urban district council of the area concerned and either council may refuse its consent or may grant consent subject to appropriate conditions. If the person is aggrieved by the Council’s decision he has the right of appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. These powers of the County Council have to be exercised with the greatest discretion, for, whilst there are places where the deposit of refuse of any kind could not be tolerated, there are districts where large pits have been formed by the excavation of valuable sand and gravel and, to restore the appearance of the landscape and make the land suitable again, perhaps for agriculture or playing fields, the pits need to be filled up. The Council takes steps, in giving consent to such reinstatement, to ensure that the material used is innocuous and that the work of filling is properly carried out.

PROTECTION AGAINST DAMAGE TO ROAD SURFACES

Vehicles must be prevented from damaging the surface of roads in the County by transmitting more weight to the road surface than it is designed to bear. For this reason the law limits the weights of laden vehicles used on the highway and the County Council’s inspectors of weights and measures are accordingly empowered to stop vehicles and have them weighed. As so much of the heaviest traffic uses the roads at night the inspectors must carry out their duty at any hour. Besides saving money on unnecessary road repairs, enforcement of this law also helps to make the roads safer for all concerned. Heavy penalties are often inflicted by the Courts on persons brought before them for breaches of this law.

PUBLIC UTILITY SERVICES

THESE services include the supply of gas, electricity, transport and water and, with the exception of the latter, are dealtwith by nationalized undertakings.

Gas—The North Thames Gas Board supplies the greater part of Middlesex, but the northern part of the County is in the area of the Eastern Gas Board, and a small part of Twickenham is dealt with by the South-eastern Board.

Electricity—The Eastern and the Southern Electricity Boards respectively cover the north and east and the south and west areas of the County, but Willesden is catered for by the London Electricity Board, and Twickenham by the Southeastern Board.

Transport—British Railways, acting through the London, Midland, Western, Southern and Eastern Regions, is responsible for rail traffic generally throughout the country, and many of the main routes to and from London pass through Middlesex. The London Transport Executive, however, has for some years past controlled practically the whole of the “Underground” electric-train system which provides the principal local services for the Greater London area. London Transport’s trains run over 248 miles of route, of which 223 are actually managed by the Executive, and it maintains 191 miles of electrified route. Since its formation in 1948 the London Transport Executive has also been responsible for the bus, trolley-bus and “Green Line” coach services, and until 1952 for the last of London’s tramways. Recent figures of Road Service rolling stock showed that London Transport had in operation 7,162 double-deck buses, 817 single-deck buses and 322 Green Line coaches.

The Executive has three major works depots in Middlesex; for bus repair and overhaul at Chiswick, for rail car repair and overhaul at Acton and for trolley-bus repair and overhaul at Fulwell.

Water supply is not dealt with by one nationalized undertaking. The Metropolitan Water Board supplies a considerable part of Middlesex, and its intake from the River Thames at Laleham in Staines is one of the Board’s three main intakes from the river. This intake has a total capacity of up to 300 million gallons daily, and the water flows by means of an open channel across country for about three-quarters of a mile to the Littleton pumping-station at the base of the western bank of “Queen Mary” reservoir, which measures nearly four miles round and, when full, contains 6,679 million gallons. The reservoir was opened in 1925 by His Majesty King George V. There are also other reservoirs at Staines and extensive works at Hampton and Kempton Park. The water supply for the western and north-western part of the County is catered for by the Come Valley Water Company and the Rickmansworth and Uxbridge Valley Water Company, and some of north Middlesex is within the area of the Barnet District Water Company. In the south-west, except for parts of Sunbury catered for by the West Surrey Water Company, the supply is dealt with by the South-West Suburban Water Company.