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Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009

Chapter 5: Local Freedoms and Honorary Titles
Introduction and background

63.This Chapter makes amendments to provisions in the Local Government Act 1972 concerning freemen (local freedoms), and honorary aldermen and honorary freemen (honorary titles).

64.The status of “freeman”, derives from the historic traditions of certain towns and cities in England and Wales. Admission as a freeman is dependent on local rules often based on inheritance or apprenticeship, although a very few freedoms may be acquired through marriage. In some towns and cities the freemen, and certain persons related to or associated with them, have property or other rights.

65.Each guild of freemen has its own rules of admission, which may be contained in byelaws, Charters, local Acts or secondary legislation or enshrined in ancient custom and practice. While some guilds have found sufficient flexibility in their rules to enable them to admit women or to make other amendments to their admissions practices, others have not been able to because the sources from which their rules derive have no simple process for amendment. These guilds now face difficulties in maintaining their numbers and in revising their rules to reflect changing times.

Section 27 – Local freedoms

66.Section 27 makes provision for a daughter of a freeman of a city or town to be admitted as a freeman where a son would have the right to be so admitted. It also makes provision for sons and daughters of freemen to be admitted as freemen irrespective of when and where they were born.

Section 28 – Power to amend law relating to local freedoms

67.Section 28, which amends section 248 of the Local Government Act 1972 and inserts a new Schedule 28A into that Act, allows the laws relating to the admission of freemen to be more easily amended.

68.New Schedule 28A makes provision for the laws relating to freedom of a city or town to be amended by, or pursuant to, a resolution of the freemen. Paragraph 2 contains powers to enable laws to be amended by, or pursuant to, a resolution of the freemen for certain, specified purposes. These are: firstly, to provide for the right for women to be admitted to the freedom of a city or town except where the effect of the amendment would be to deprive a man of the right to be admitted; secondly, to enable a woman admitted to freedom of a city or town to use the title freewoman; and, thirdly, to put a civil partner (or surviving civil partner) of a freeman in the same position as a spouse (for instance, if the relevant law confers on the surviving spouse of a freeman the right to an annual payment, the new provision allows that right to be extended to surviving civil partners).

69.Paragraph 2 goes on to provide that the freemen may amend any enactment (other than an Act of Parliament) or the law established by custom for any of the purposes set out above, simply by passing a “qualifying resolution”. A qualifying resolution is a resolution passed in accordance with the procedure set out in paragraphs 7 to 10 of the Schedule. However, if the law which the freemen wish to amend for any of the purposes set out above is contained in an Act of Parliament then the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers, as the case may be, will need to make the amendments by Order once the freemen have proposed the amendment in a qualifying resolution. If the Act of Parliament concerned is a public general Act the Order will need to be made using the negative resolution procedure. No Parliamentary procedure is required if the Act of Parliament concerned is a local Act.

70.Paragraph 3 provides a power for any amendment (not just an amendment for one of the purposes set out in paragraph 2) to be made to the law relating to rights of admission where the law is contained in a royal charter. The amendment must first be proposed in a qualifying resolution and the amendment must be made by Order in Council.

71.Paragraph 4 provides a power for the freemen to amend, simply by passing a qualifying resolution, the law relating to rights of admission of freemen so far as that law is established by custom. However, where the amendment to customary law being made is for one of the purposes set out in paragraph 2, the amendment should be made under paragraph 2(3) and not paragraph 4.

72.Paragraphs 5 and 6 provide that the powers set out in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 for the freemen to amend the law relating to rights of admission include a power to make consequential amendments using the relevant procedure. So, for example, where the principal amendment – the “admissions amendment” — is to a charter by Order in Council any consequential amendments will be made by Order in Council, even if the law amended is established by custom. This is subject, however, to paragraph 5(3) which provides that any consequential amendment which is made to an Act of Parliament must be made by an Order made by the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers, as the case may be, once a qualifying resolution proposing the amendment has been passed by the freemen.

73.Paragraph 7 sets out the procedure to be followed by a freeman or freemen who propose an amendment to the law relating to rights of admission of freemen in their area. Under this paragraph a resolution to make an amendment is passed if it meets the conditions and procedural requirements set out in paragraphs 8 and 9.

Section 29 – Honorary titles

74.Section 29 amends section 249 of the Local Government Act 1972 in respect of both honorary freemen and honorary aldermen.

75.The title of “honorary freeman” is different from the status of freeman. As the name suggests, the status is purely honorary in nature, and confers no rights on the person so recognised.

76.Section 249 as originally enacted allows certain local authorities to confer the title ‘honorary freeman’ on persons of distinction and persons who have rendered eminent services to the local area. The local authorities who could exercise this power are the council of a London borough or a district having the status of a city, borough or royal borough or any parish or community having by grant under the royal prerogative the status of city and any parish or community entitled by such grant to be called and styled a royal town. The power is also exercisable by principal councils in Wales.

77.The amendments made to section 249 by section 29 extend the power to confer the title “honorary freeman” under section 249 to all principal councils, parish and community councils, and charter trustees in England. The amendments also allow councils to confer the title “honorary freewoman” where appropriate.

78.Section 249 also contains a power for principal councils to confer the title ‘honorary alderman’ on former members of the council who have rendered eminent services to that council. Section 29 amends section 249 to enable principal councils who are exercising that power to confer the title “honorary alderwoman” where appropriate.

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