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The Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, also known as the Herbert Commission, was established in 1957 and published its report in 1960. The report made recommendations for the overhaul of the administration of the capital that were implemented in a modified form by the London Government Act 1963.


The chairman of the Commission was Sir Edwin Herbert The other members were:[1]

  • Paul Cadbury, chairman of Cadbury Brothers, and former member of Birmingham City Council’s reconstruction committee
  • Alice Johnston, member of the National Assistance Board
  • William Lawson, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
  • William Mackenzie, professor of government, Victoria University, Manchester
  • Sir Charles Morris, vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds
  • Sir John Wrigley, former Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government

The membership of the commission was notable for not containing anyone with previous involvement with local government in the London area.[2]

Terms of reference and area under review[]

The Commission’s terms of reference were to: “examine the present system and working of Local Government in the Greater London area; to recommend whether any, and if so what, changes in local government structure and the distribution of local government functions in the area, or any part of it, would better secure effective and convenient local government.”

The review area was:

  • Administrative County of London
  • Administrative County of Middlesex
  • The county boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham
  • The following county districts in the county of Surrey:
    • The boroughs of Barnes, Beddington and Wallington, Epsom and Ewell, Kingston-upon-Thames, Malden and Coombe, Mitcham, Richmond, Surbiton, Sutton and Cheam and Wimbledon
    • The urban districts of Banstead, Carshalton, Caterham and Warlingham, Coulsdon and Purley, Esher, Merton and Morden and Walton and Weybridge,
  • The following county districts in the county of Kent:
    • The boroughs of Beckenham, Bexley, Bromley, Dartford and Erith
    • The urban districts of Chislehurst and Sidcup, Crayford, Orpington and Penge,
  • The following county districts and parishes in the county of Hertford,
    • The borough of Watford,
    • The urban districts of Barnet, Bushey, Cheshunt, Chorleywood, East Barnet and Rickmansworth,
    • The rural district of Elstree
    • The parish of Northaw in the rural district of Hatfield
    • The parishes of Aldenham and Watford Rural in the rural district of Watford,
  • The following county districts in the county of Essex:
    • The boroughs of Barking, Chingford, Dagenham, Ilford, Leyton, Romford, Walthamstow and Wanstead and Woodford
    • The urban districts of Chigwell, Hornchurch and Waltham Holy Cross.

The existing local authorities varied widely in population and size: the six county councils or county boroughs in the metropolitan area had similar responsibilities, yet the number of inhabitants in their areas under their control varied from over 3,000,000 to 110,000. There were 102 county districts within the review area and these also varied greatly: some had larger populations and rateable value than existing county boroughs, while others had only a few thousand residents. Outside of the County of London the division of functions between county councils and county districts was also unclear: some districts enjoyed considerable independence with a range of delegated “county” powers, while similar districts did not. There were no set criteria for such delegation, which instead came about because of “fortuitous historical, political and personal factors”, a situation leading to “serious administrative friction” in some counties.[3]

The work of the Commission[]

The Commission held 114 meetings, heard oral evidence on 70 occasions, and asked nearly 16,000 questions.[4] The Commission was also able to draw on the work of the Greater London Group of the London School of Economics, which had carried out an extensive survey on local government in London.

The evidence heard by the Commission was contradictory: that of the Ministry of Local Government and Housing depicted a system that was breaking down while that given by the local authorities vigorously defended the status quo.

In the absence of consensus, the Commission drew up two criteria by which to guide its recommendations:

  • Efficiency and economy in the use of human and financial resources
  • The maintenance of healthy local democracy

By following these criteria a two-tier system was envisaged, with a regional authority for “technical” services and smaller local authorities for “personal” services. Much of the Commission’s deliberations involved trying to find an optimum size for the sub-units of the proposed system. The general agreement of witnesses was that a basic “many-purpose” unit should have a population of between at least 250,000, with many favouring a range of 500,000 to 1,500,000. It was stressed by council officers and teachers that authorities would need to be of a sufficiently large size to provide promotion prospects and attract good staff.

The Commission, however, favoured smaller units. This was due to their second criterion: large authorities, it was felt, would be remote from their citizens. It was also hoped that smaller local authorities would encourage greater participation in local elections. The Commission displayed a dislike of “bigness”, in particular describing the London County Council as “massive”, “inhuman” and “monolithic”.

Three criteria were used by the commission to consider if places on the periphery should be included in the review area. They were extent to which a locality was independent and freestanding; the closeness of links with the capital; and the outlook of the district towards or away from London.[5] In 1960 the commission deleted Potters Bar and all parts of Hertfordshire aside from Cheshunt, Barnet and East Barnet from the review area.[6]


The Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, 1957–60, (Cmnd. 1164) was published on 19 October 1960. The recommendations in the unanimous report were:

  • The establishment of a Regional Council for Greater London. The council was to be entirely elected, with one member for each parliamentary constituency.
  • The Regional council was to administer "strategic services" such as town planning, traffic management, education, fire and ambulance services.
  • A second tier of local units, called "Greater London Boroughs", would be formed by amalgamation of the existing metropolitan boroughs, county boroughs, municipal boroughs and county districts.
  • Greater London Boroughs were to have a population of between 100,000 and 250,000.
  • Some services would need to be shared between the two tiers. For example, the regional authority would decide on the educational budget, maintenance of standards, planning of location and types of schools and the recruitment of teachers; the boroughs would oversee the day to day administration of all schools in their area.

The Commission did not include the entire review area within its proposed Greater London region: they excluded Waltham Holy Cross in Essex, Dartford in Kent, Potters Bar in Middlesex and the Elstree and Watford areas of Hertfordshire.

The report proposed a total of fifty-two Greater London Boroughs, to be formed from the following existing areas:[7]

  1. City of London
  2. City of Westminster
  3. Finsbury/Holborn/Shoreditch
  4. Islington
  5. Hackney/Stoke Newington
  6. Bethnal Green/Poplar/Stepney
  7. Woolwich
  8. Deptford/Greenwich
  9. Lewisham
  10. Camberwell
  11. Bermondsey/Southwark
  12. Lambeth
  13. Wandsworth (part)
  14. Battersea/Wandsworth (part)
  15. Hammersmith/Fulham
  16. Kensington/Chelsea
  17. Paddington/St Marylebone
  18. Hampstead/St Pancras
  19. Chingford/Walthamstow
  20. Chigwell/Leyton/Wanstead and Woodford
  21. Ilford
  22. Romford
  23. Hornchurch
  24. Barking/Dagenham
  25. East Ham
  26. West Ham
  27. Bexley/Crayford/Erith
  28. Chislehurst and Sidcup/Orpington
  29. Beckenham/Bromley/Penge
  30. Croydon
  31. Caterham and Warlingham/Coulsdon and Purley
  32. Banstead/Epsom and Ewell
  33. Beddington and Wallington/Carshalton/Sutton and Cheam
  34. Merton and Morden/Mitcham/Wimbledon
  35. Barnes/Municipal Borough of Richmond (Surrey)
  36. Kingston-upon-Thames/Malden and Coombe/Surbiton
  37. Esher/Walton and Weybridge
  38. Feltham/Staines/Sunbury-on-Thames
  39. Twickenham
  40. Heston and Isleworth
  41. Acton/Brentford and Chiswick
  42. Ealing
  43. Hayes and Harlington/Southall
  44. Ruislip-Northwood/Uxbridge/Yiewsley and West Drayton
  45. Harrow
  46. Wembley
  47. Willesden
  48. Hendon
  49. Barnet/East Barnet/Finchley/Friern Barnet
  50. Hornsey/Southgate/Wood Green
  51. Edmonton/Tottenham
  52. Cheshunt/Enfield

Government reaction and legislation[]

By May 1961 the government had announced that a number of areas on the edge of the conurbation would be excluded from Greater London, and this was followed by the publication of a white paper on 29 November 1961, accepting most of the recommendations. However, they felt education should be a borough-level function in most parts of the capital, with a single authority for central London. They also proposed that boroughs should be larger and fewer in number.[8] In December the government proposed that there be 34 boroughs rather than 52, and detailed their boundaries.[9] By the time of the introduction of legislation in 1962, the number of boroughs had been reduced to 32, and the area of Greater London again reduced.

The London Government Act 1963 came into effect on 1 April 1965, with the creation of the Greater London Council and thirty-two London borough councils.


  1. London Gazette, 13 December 1957
  2. Gerald Rhodes, The Government of London: The Struggle for Reform, Toronto, 1970
  3. Marjorie McIntosh, The Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, in The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 12, No. 3. (Sep., 1961), pp. 236-248.
  4. E. W. Gilbert, Review of Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, 1957-60, (Cmnd. 1164), in The Geographical Journal, Vol. 127, No. 3. (Sep., 1961), pp. 350-351.
  5. What is London? (PDF). London Assembly. Retrieved on 2008-03-20.
  6. Young, K. & Garside, P., Metropolitan London: Politics and Urban Change 1837-1981, (1982)
  7. A Council for Greater London Proposed, The Times. 20 October 1960.
  8. London Government: Government Proposals for Reorganization, Cmnd. 1562
  9. Government Plan for 34 London Boroughs. The Times, 19 December 1961.