Parish Councils have their origins in the development of villages during Saxon and Norman times. A village was ruled by the Lord of the Manor because there was little national control. Gradually Parish Priests and sometimes Schoolmasters joined the Lord of the Manor to create a ruling clique.
By the Year 1601, Church Vestry Meetings were well organised and it was sensible for national legislators to give them the responsibility of levying the poor rate. These were the first effective local taxes. Everyone in the parish was entitled to attend Church Vestry Meetings but in practice the work fell to a few individuals, rather like Parish Councils today.
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act removed the responsibility for poor relief from Parish Vestries and handed it to Poor Law Unions (the origins of our present District Councils) but parishes had taken responsibility for administering local charities and, managing commons created by the distribution of land as a result of the 18th Century Enclosure Acts.
In 1894 although the Squire, the Parson and sometimes the Schoolmaster were still the leaders in the village, popular education was spreading and more people wanted a say in managing local affairs.
The great Victorian Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone, piloted the 1894 Local Government Act through the House of Commons, in spite of considerable opposition; there were over eight hundred amendments moved during its passage through the House. Nevertheless, the Act became law and elected Parish Councils came in to being.
Under the 1894 Act, Parish Councils were to receive their income from rates levied on agricultural land, but this was a time of agricultural depression and the money raised was so very low that this system was soon abandoned. Householders were then rated; something householders had never experienced before, and this lead to more opposition to Parish Councils. It wasn’t until after the first world war that Central Government began to give serious responsibilities to Parish Councils. The earliest among them being the provision of allotments and playing fields, although an Act relating to allotments had been passed in 1908.
After the second world war the National Association of Parish Councils was formed, and by 1952 half of all parishes in the country were members. The Association became a national force and raised the profile and consequently the activity of parish councils.
Role of Parish Councils
The 1965 Royal Commission on Local Government (The Redcliffe-Maude Commission) recommended that local councils should be empowered to do what they pleased for the benefit of their people, and a consequence of this was the very important 1972 Local Government Act which removed many of the restrictions on the activities of parish councils. Before the 1972 Act, parish councils could not save money from one year to the next in order to fund a major project, something all councils must now do to avoid a massive council tax for each year that anything new is attempted. Subsequent legislation has added to parish council powers and now local councils are able to undertake any of the following things:-
- The provision of allotments.
- Developing and improving knowledge of the arts and crafts.
- Provision of bars and laundrettes.
- Cemeteries, crematoria, maintenance of churchyards and the provision of mortuaries.
- Provision and maintenance of public clocks.
- Provision of any form of public entertainment and of any premises for giving entertainments; this includes maintaining bands or orchestras and providing for dancing.
- The provision of buildings for public meetings and functions, indoor sports, physical recreation, for clubs having recreation, social or athletic objectives.
- The provision and maintenance of footway lighting, which lights roads and pavements.
- The provision of litter bins and the support of anti-litter campaigns.
- The provision and maintenance of public open spaces, pleasure grounds and public walks, public lavatories, car parks, cycle parks, public parks and associated facilities.
- Maintenance of public footpaths and bridleways, planting and maintaining road side verges.
- Maintenance of public seats, shelters for general public use and particularly for bus passengers, erection of signs which warn of dangers, renounce a place name or indicate a bus stop.
- Provision of indoor or outdoor swimming pools or bathing places.
- Provision of facilities for conferences, the encouragement of recreation and business tourism.
- Powers to maintain a village or town green.
With thanks to Robin Aird Chairman of Dunchurch Parish Council who has allowed us to use this text taken from their website.