The Local Government Act 1972 (1972 c. 70) is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom, that reformed local government in England and Wales, on 1 April 1974.
The Vital Statistics Edit
The Act specified the composition and names of the English and Welsh counties, and the composition of the metropolitan and Welsh districts. It did not specify any names of districts, nor indeed the borders of the non-metropolitan districts in England — these were specified by Statutory Instrument after the passing of the Act. A Boundary Commission, provided for in the Act, had already begun work on dividing England into districts whilst the Bill was still going through Parliament. In England there were 46 counties and 296 districts, in Wales there were 8 and 37. Six of the English counties were designated as metropolitan counties. The new English counties were based clearly on the traditional ones, albeit with several substantial changes. The 13 historic counties of Wales, however, were abandoned entirely for administrative purposes, and 8 new ones instituted. In England prior to the passing of the Act there had been 1086 urban and rural districts and 79 county boroughs. The number of districts was reduced about fourfold.
Who supported it Edit
The Act was introduced by the Conservative government under Edward Heath and so was supported by the Tories. In the Commons it passed through Standing Committee D, who debated the Bill in fifty-one sittings from 25 November 1971, to 20 March 1972. The Labour Party supported it. The Liberal Party supported it.
The Background Edit
Elected county councils had been established in England and Wales for the first time in 1888, covering areas known as administrative counties. Some large towns, known as county boroughs were politically independent from the counties they were physically situated in. The county areas were two-tier, with many municipal borough, urban district and rural districts within them, each with its own council. Apart from the creation of new county boroughs, the most significant change since 1899 (and the establishment of metropolitan boroughs in the County of London) had been the establishment in 1965 of Greater London and its thirty-two London boroughs, covering a much larger area than the previous county of London. A Local Government Commission for England was set up in 1958 to review local government arrangements throughout the country, and had some successes, such as merging two pairs of small administrative counties to form Huntingdon and Peterborough and Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely, and the creation of several contigous county boroughs in the Black Country. However, the Local Government Commission was routinely having its recommendations ignored in favour of the status quo, such as its proposal to abolish Rutland, or to reorganise Tyneside.
Despite mergers, there was still a proliferation of small district councils in rural areas, and in the major conurbations the borders had been set before the pattern of urban development had become clear. For example, the area that was to become the seven boroughs of the metropolitan county of West Midlands, local government was split between three administrative counties (Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire), and eight county boroughs (Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Solihull, Walsall, Warley, West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton). The Local Government Commission was wound up in 1966, and replaced with a Royal Commission (known as the Redcliffe-Maud commission). In 1969 it recommended a system of single-tier unitary authorities for the whole of England, apart from three metropolitan areas of Merseyside, Selnec (Greater Manchester) and West Midlands (Birmingham and the Black Country), which were to have both a metropolitan council and district councils.
What it did generally Edit
The Act abolished previous existing local government structures, and created a two-tier system of counties and districts everywhere. Some of the new counties were designated metropolitan counties, containing metropolitan boroughs instead. The allocation of functions differed between the metropolitan and the non-metropolitan areas (the so-called 'shire counties') — for example, education and social services were the responsibility of the shire counties, but in metropolitan areas was given to the districts. The distribution of powers was slightly different in Wales than in England, with libraries being a county responsibility in England — but in Wales districts could opt to become library authorities themselves. One key principle was that education authorities (non-metropolitan counties and metropolitan districts), were deemed to need a population base of 250,000 in order to be viable. Although called two-tier, the system was really three-tier, as it retained civil parish councils, although in Wales they were renamed community councils.
The Act introduced 'agency', where one local authority (usually a district) could act as an agent for another authority. For example, since road maintenance was split depending upon the type of road, both types of council had to retain engineering departments. A county council could delegate its road maintenance to the district council if it was confident that the district was competent. Some powers were specifically excluded from agency, such as education. The Act abolished various historic relics such as aldermen. Many existing boroughs that were too small to constitute a district, but too large to constitute a civil parish, were given Charter Trustees. Most provisions of the Act came into force at midnight on 1 April 1974. Elections to the new councils had already been held, in 1973, and the new authorities were already up and running as 'shadow authorities', following the example set by the London Government Act 1963.
For More Information Edit
1. Text of the Act, http://www.wikilivres.info/wiki/index.php/The_English_Non-metropolitan_Districts_(Definition)_Order_1972. 2. Detailed border changes and renaming, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_Government_Act_1972#White_Paper_and_Bill.