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Next Meeting

Date of the next Meeting - 21/03/2011
The next meeting will be held on 21st March 2011 at the Marriott Tudor Park Hotel. at 7.30pm.…

Meeting Details

History and function of Parish Councils

It is the first tier of Local Government and was created by statute in 1894.

Before 1894, for many years, the affairs of the parishes had been administered by a vestry, or meeting of the village inhabitants. Inevitably these meetings were dominated by the squire, the parson and the principal ratepayers and some became ‘select vestries’, only open to those people deemed ‘suitable’ to serve. In many parishes, particularly rural ones, the system worked perfectly well, in others it was virtually non-existent or very inefficient.

For a variety of reasons, including a general movement towards greater ‘democracy’; and a desire to break the power of the Church of England over the lives of nonconformists and non-believers, a Bill was promoted to create Parish Councils. After a difficult passage through parliament and many amendments, this Bill became an Act in 1894. Its effect was to transfer all non ecclesiastical functions from the church to the elected Parish Councils. Some other functions were added, such as those relating to the burial of the dead, which had, many years before, been vested in Burial Boards, an early form of Quango.

The regulations under which the first Parish Councils operated were not very tight at that stage and the influence of the church was not so easily to be diminished. 

(Parish Government, 1894 -1994, by K P Poole and Brian Keith-Lucas, published by The National Association of Local Councils in 1994)

“In the choice of chairmen of parish councils there was considerable evidence of traditional deference. In the old vestries the parson had always taken the chair and now nearly one parish in five chose the parson as their first chairman, co-opting him for that purpose if he had not been elected to the council.”

 

There were many anomalies and difficulties encountered in the years between 1894 and 1972, when the present basic Local Government Act came into being. A full and very entertaining account of these years can be found in the above quoted book.

Much has changed since 1894, despite the impression given by the“The Vicar of Dibley” TV series. Parish Councils are closely regulated and the amount of administrational bureaucracy and red tape has increased exponentially in the past few years, with an accompanying rise in costs of audit and insurance. On the other hand, with lines of responsibility more clearly drawn, there now appears to be no general animosity towards the church and some villages still have the parson on the Parish Council. That is, if s/he has the time to spare, because the church has also changed considerably, with greatly enlarged parishes, few curates and the same problem with red tape and mountains of post.