Wislon - First Term As Prime Minister - Domestic Affairs - Liberal Reforms

Liberal Reforms

The Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act (1970) made provision for the welfare of children whose parents were about to divorce or be judicially separated, with courts (for instance) granted wide powers to order financial provision for children in the form of maintenance payments made by either parent. This legislation allowed courts to order provision for either spouse and recognised the contribution to the joint home made during marriage. That same year, spouses were given an equal share of household assets following divorce via the Matrimonial Property Act. The Race Relations Act was also extended in 1968 and in 1970 the Equal Pay Act was passed. Another important reform, the 1967 Welsh Language Act, granted 'equal validity' to the declining Welsh language and encouraged its revival. Government expenditure was also increased on both sport and the arts. The Commons Registration Act 1965 provided for the registration of all common land and village greens, whilst under the Countryside Act 1968, local authorities could provide facilities "for enjoyment of such lands to which the public has access". The Family Provision Act of 1966 amended a series of pre-existing estate laws mainly related to persons who died interstate. The legislation increased the amount that could be paid of surviving spouses if a will hadn't been left, and also expanded upon the jurisdiction of county courts, which were given the jurisdiction of high courts under certain circumstances when handling matters of estate. The rights of adopted children were also improved with certain wording changed in the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act of 1938 to bestow opon them the same rights as natural-born children. In 1968, the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948 was updated to include more categories of childminders. A year later, the Family Law Reform Act was passed, which allowed people born outside marriage to inherit on the intestacy of either parent. In 1967, homosexuality was decriminalised by the passage of the Sexual Offences Act. The first Wilson government also introduced a thirty-year rule for access to public records, replacing a previous fifty-year rule.

The Race Relations Act of 1965 outlawed direct discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, and ethnic or national origin in some public places. The legislation also set up a Race Relations Board. A centrally financed network of local officers was provided to smooth inter-racial relations by conciliation, education, and informal pressure, while a National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants was established (under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury) to encourage and help finance staff "for local voluntary, good-neighbour type bodies." A further Race Relations Act was passed in 1968, which made discrimination in letting or advertising housing illegal, together with discrimination in hiring and promotion. The legislation also provided a strengthened Race Relations Board with powers to "conciliate" in cases of discrimination, which meant persuading discriminators to stop such acts and, if they refused to stop, legal action could be taken against them as an ultimate sanction. The legislation also replaced the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants with the Community Relations Commission, a statutory body. This body was provided with an annual grant (beginning at £300,000) for social work, propaganda, and education as a means of bringing about good race relations. The Criminal Justice Act of 1967 introduced suspended prison sentences and allowed a ten to two majority vote for jury decisions. An Ombudsman (Parliamentary Commissioner) was appointed in 1967 to consider complaints against government departments and to impose remedies, while censorship of plays by the Lord Chamberlain was abolished (1969). In addition, the law on Sunday Observance was relaxed.

From 1966, a circular from several Whitehall ministries was sent to local authorities across the country urging them to provide permanent caravan sites for gypsies. This was followed by the Caravan Sites Act, introduced by the Liberal MP Eric Lubbock in 1968, which obliged local authorities to carry out the recommendations of the 19566 circular. Under the Act, gypsies became entitled to settle in many areas as well as to enjoy regular visiting rights for their caravans in others. The Administration of Justice Act 1970 introduced (amongst other measures) a new Family Division of the High Court.

A number of private members' bills related to consumer affairs, put forward by Co-operative MPs, became law under the first Wilson government, and much of the consumer legislation taken for granted by contemporary British shoppers can be attributed to the legislation passed during this period. In 1968, the Trade Descriptions Act (the "shoppers' charter") was enacted by parliament, and a farm and garden chemicals bill also became law that same year. Other co-operative bills enacted during this period included a new Clean Air Act, a bill removing restrictions on off-licences, and a bill to promote agriculture co-operatives passed in 1967, which established "A scheme administered by a new Central Council for Agriculture and Horticulture Co-operation with a budget to organise and promote co-operation with agriculture and horticulture". The 1970 Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act, regarded as a groundbreaking measure, was the first kind of legislation in the world to recognise and give rights to disabled people, and set down specific provisions to improve access and support for people with disabilities. The government effectively supported the passage of these bills by granting them the necessary parliamentary time.

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