Government and Ministerial Statements on Historic Counties

Over the years, the UK Government and individual ministers have made many statements on the subject of Britain’s traditional counties. These have, without exception, reiterated the fact that these counties still exist (which many people do not even realise) and are worth celebrating.

The new county boundaries are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties.

Government Statement – 1 April 1974

I can confirm that the Government still stand by this statement, that the local authority areas and boundaries introduced in April 1974 do not alter the traditional boundaries of counties.

The 1974 arrangements are entirely administrative and need not affect long-standing loyalties and affinities.”

Michael Portillo MP, Minister for Local Government – 11 July 1990

The Local Government Act 1972 did not abolish traditional counties, only administrative ones.

Although, for local government purposes some of the historic counties have ceased to be administrative areas, they continue to exist for other purposes, organisations and local groups.

Department of the Environment – 3 September 1991

Although the Local Government Act of 1888 and subsequent legislation transferred to newly constituted Councils administrative business and responsibility for redefined areas, such legislation did not alter or affect the Duchy palatinate boundaries which remain the same as the old (pre 1888) geographical County of Lancaster. Both Furness and Cartmel lie within the County Palatine.

Office of the Duchy of Lancaster – 23 September 1992

“The Government acknowledge the continuing strength of the affection which many people in Wales have for the traditional 13 counties, which is expressed, for example, in the organisation of many sporting, social, voluntary and cultural societies on the basis of the traditional counties’ boundaries. I see no reason why such arrangements should not continue.”

Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Wales – 31 January 1996

“The Government is aware that many people attach importance to Historic and traditional county areas and it is not their intention that people’s identification with their counties will be diminished.”

John Powell, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – 29 August 2003

“I can confirm that these Acts (1933, 1972) did not specifically abolish traditional counties so traditional counties still exist but no longer for the purposes of the administration of local Government.”

Department for Communities and Local Government – 22 August 2006

“There is no doubt about the importance of historic counties… as part of our history and cultural life.

I agree that they provide many people with a strong sense of identity and local pride. Indeed the continued use of traditional county names and areas in tourism, sport, business, literature and the arts, to name but a few examples, bears testament to that.

Of course we should all be proud of where we come from.”

Gillian Merron MP, Private Secretary to the Cabinet Office – 29 June 2007

“The legislation that currently defines counties for the purposes of administration of local government is the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended by various Orders in the 1990s).

This legislation abolished the previous administrative counties, which were established by the Local Government Act 1933.

However, these Acts did not specifically abolish traditional counties, so traditional counties still exist, but no longer for the purpose of the administration of local government.

We are certainly aware that many people attach importance to historic or traditional county areas and that they feel strongly about such issues.

It is true that the traditional counties continue to play an important part in national life, and their names are often used in sport, business, local and family history, military history, literature and the arts.”

Parjit Dhanda MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Department for Communities & Local Government – 16 April 2008

Parjit Dhanda

“English counties continue to form an important part of our cultural and local identity in this country and many people remain deeply attached to their home county.

This sense of pride and shared identity is one of the things that binds communities together and it’s right that the Government department responsible for communities and local government should be actively recognising the important role they play.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 10 September 2010

“The tapestry of England’s counties binds our nation together. This government has binned the arbitrary Government Office euro-regions, and instead, we are championing England’s traditional local identities which continue to run deep.

Administrative restructuring by previous governments has sought to suppress and undermine such local identities. Today, on St George’s Day, we commemorate our patron saint and formally acknowledge the continuing role of our traditional counties in England’s public and cultural life.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 23 April 2013

“In April, my Department formally acknowledged the continuing role of England’s traditional counties in English public life. Previously, many parts of Whitehall and municipal officialdom have shunned these counties, many of which date back over a thousand years of English history. On 25 May, my Department flew the flag of Wessex as part of our broader programme of recognising and celebrating the traditional institutions of England.

Flags are a symbol of local and national pride and heritage and we have already amended the law to make it easier to fly flags without a permit from the council. I was pleased to see that misjudged decisions by Radstock town council in Somerset and the Places for People social landlord in Preston to ban the St George’s flag have been reversed.

Recent events remind us that we are stronger as a society when we celebrate the ties that bind us together and we challenge the politics of division. Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, we should have pride in Britain’s local and national identities.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 3 June 2013

“England’s traditional counties date back over a thousand years of English history, but many of the counties have been sidelined by Whitehall and municipal bureaucrats in recent decades, including the municipal restructuring by Edward Heath’s Government in 1972. By contrast, this Government are championing local communities continuing to cherish and celebrate such traditional ties and community spirit.

To mark St George’s day, on 23 April, my Department announced a new initiative to support the “tapestry” of traditional English counties, including getting rid of a Whitehall ban on the names of traditional counties being displayed on street and road signs. We have also published a new online interactive map of England’s county boundaries.

Planning guidance has been changed to allow for councils to put up boundary signs marking traditional English counties—for example, the likes of Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Westmorland and Middlesex. In addition, the Government are shortly to propose changes to highways regulations to allow traditional county names to appear on boundary road signs. The current rules prevent unitary councils like Blackpool from having a road sign saying “Lancashire”, or Poole saying “Dorset”—since they confusingly are not considered to be part of an “administrative county”.

No council is being forced to make any change or put up unnecessary street clutter, but the intention is to free councils from Whitehall red tape, support local tourism and to cherish local ties and traditions. Local communities will be able to lobby their councils for the restoration of traditional boundary signs, including campaigns by public subscription.

This is part of a series of steps to champion England’s national identities; the Government have previously changed Whitehall rules to allow local and county flags to be flown without planning permission, and supported the Flag Institute in encouraging a new wave of county and community flags to be designed and flown by local communities.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 28 April 2014

“On 16 May, my Department raised the flag of Middlesex to mark Middlesex day, and on 2 June my Department also raised the flag of Dorset to celebrate Dorset day. England’s traditional counties date back over a thousand years of history, but in the past, many of them were sidelined by Whitehall and municipal bureaucrats. By contrast, the coalition Government are championing local people in flying the flag for such traditional ties and community spirit.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 5 June 2014

“This Government have been championing local communities continuing to cherish and celebrate traditional ties and community spirit, including flag-flying. On 29 September, my Department raised the flag of Westmorland to celebrate Westmorland Day and on 1 October, my Department raised the flag of Lincolnshire to celebrate Lincolnshire Day. England’s counties and historic counties continue to form an important part of our cultural and local identity in this country and many people remain deeply attached to their home county.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 13 October 2014

“England’s counties and historic counties continue to form an important part of our cultural and local identity in this country and many people remain deeply attached to their home county.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 13 October 2014

“We have stood up for British values of common sense. We have:

Backed British values and identity, flying the United Kingdom’s national and traditional county flags, and recognising England’s traditional boroughs, towns, cities and counties.”

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government – 26 March 2015

Eric Pickles

“England’s traditional counties date back over a thousand years of English history, but many of the counties have been sidelined by Whitehall in recent decades, whether by the bland municipal restructuring of Edward Heath’s Government in 1972, or by the imposition of artificial regional structures by the last Labour Government based on the EU’s Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (the appropriately-named ‘NUTS’ Regulations).

Yet the tapestry of England’s counties binds our nation together, and is interwoven with our cultural fabric – from our cricket to our ales. So this Government has taken a series of steps to champion our traditional counties:

• We have amended planning regulations to allow local and county flags to be flown without planning permission, and published a plain English guide to flying flags. Previously, flying a county flag on an existing flag pole required a princely sum of £335 to be paid to the council.

• We have supported the Flag Institute in publishing a new guide for would-be vexillologists to encourage a new wave of county and other local flags to be designed and flown.

• My Department has flown a range of county flags in Whitehall to mark different county days, including Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Westmorland and Middlesex. We have also flown flags to celebrate other historic localities such as those of the Ridings of Yorkshire and of Wessex – the kingdom which gave birth to the united English nation.

• We are changing highways regulations to allow traditional county names to appear on boundary road signs. The previous rules prevented unitary councils like Blackpool from having a road sign saying ‘Lancashire’, or Poole saying ‘Dorset’ – since they were not considered to be part of the ‘administrative county’.

• We have a new online interactive map of England’s different county boundaries.

• Ordnance Survey, the Government’s National Mapping Agency, now provides a dataset of current, ceremonial counties(counties retained for the purposes of representing Her Majesty by Lord Lieutenants and High Sheriffs).

• I can also announce to the House today that from May a dataset of the traditional, historic counties based on 19th Century boundaries will be available on the OS OpenData portal. These datasets are compatible with the OS Boundary-Line product which is available to all free of charge. Ordnance Survey is also going to provide a viewing map window on their website showing both the historic and ceremonial County boundaries on top of a base map.

• Later in the year, Ordnance Survey is hoping to publish a paper map of the Historic Counties of England, Scotland and Wales (as defined in the Local Government Act 1888 for England and Wales and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 for Scotland), which will be available to the general public to purchase and proudly display.

We are stronger as a nation when we cherish and champion our local and traditional ties. This Government is proud to wave the flag of St George and Union flag alongside our county flags. Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, we should have pride in our English identity within the United Kingdom’s Union that binds us all together.”

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Department for Communities & Local Government – 10 March 2015

Lord Ahmad

“I regularly have discussions with local authorities covering a wide range of issues which can include the celebration of historic counties.

To help county council leaders develop local activities to celebrate their historic counties, I issued on 10 April guidance which included a section referring to the County Flags Day on 23 July and provided advice about the flying of Historic County Flags.”

Jake Berry MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Department for Housing, Communities & Local Government – 20 May 2019

“Our new guidance helps local authorities celebrate historic counties, their shared heritage, culture, history and our great nation.

In government, we are throwing our full weight behind historic counties through proudly flying 50 iconic county flags in the heart of Parliament Square for Historic County Flags Day on 23 July.”

Jake Berry MP, Northern Powerhouse Minister – 16 July 2019

“I am a huge supporter of our historic counties which are an integral part of local identity and belonging.

Over the last year or more, we have been active in promoting the role of our historic counties in celebrating the history and traditions of our nation.

We will use the opportunity presented by Historic County Flags Day on 23 July to raise their profile once more, but given the wider pressures resulting from the COVID-19 emergency, we envisage any celebrations this year at national and local level will be done virtually or via social media.”

Simon Clarke MP, Minister for Local Government – 8 July 2020

“Today is an opportunity to celebrate the rich tapestry of our shared national heritage.

These flags represent local traditions and stories from every corner of Great Britain which people rightly take pride in.

I am proud to see such an explosion of colour in Parliament Square on Historic County Flags Day in celebration of all that binds us together.”

Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government – 23 July 2021

“The history and traditions of this country are very important and the tapestry of our historic counties is one of the bonds that draws the nation together. We support various initiatives to celebrate our historic counties and encourage local leaders across Great Britain to do the same.”

Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Housing, Communities & Local Government – 16 September 2021

“The Government have taken steps to ensure it is easier to recognise historic counties. In 2014, planning rules were changed to allow councils to put up boundary signs marking traditional English counties. In 2015, the Government commissioned Ordnance Survey to produce historic and ceremonial county-boundary datasets, and we are open to other ideas.”

Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Housing, Communities & Local Government – 16 September 2021

“The Government proudly flew the Yorkshire flag outside our headquarters to mark Yorkshire Day. That beautiful flag was part of the display in Parliament Square that flew for a week to mark Historic County Flags Day on 23 July. We recognise that people should take great pride in their local identities and we continue to do so, irrespective of the local administrative areas.”

Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Housing, Communities & Local Government – 16 September 2021

Lord Greenhalgh

• • •