A legislative council was the means by which Britain involved local peoples—natives and white settlers, missionaries and businessmen—in their own governance. The general idea behind the legislative council was to allow for the expansion of local participation, and it was a flexible concept which changed from place to place. In certain cases the legislative council indicated a group of local representatives who were appointed by the government and had a merely advisory role. In other cases the members of the legislative council were elected by the local population, enjoying the right to initiate policy and even overrule the policies of the British administration.

The establishment of legislative councils in British colonies was part of a changing approach to the political education of colonies. Whereas once the policy had been to keep the colonies wholly dependant on the Empire, the new standpoint was to prepare them for eventual self-government. The legislative council helped the local peoples make their first step towards this goal, no matter how distant it might be. Legislative councils, where they were created, increasingly acquired roles in colonial governance as more and more rights were transferred from the colonial administration to local politicians. The first legislative council was created in the port of Lagos (now part of Nigeria) in 1856.

Despite the general sophistication of the urban elites of all communities in Palestine, divisions between Arabs and Jews prevented the British from creating a Legislative Council in 1923 and, again, during the 1920s and 1930s. The Legislative Council idea, as a path toward eventual self-government, was finally abandoned as inappropriate for Palestine when partition was adopted as British policy in 1937, and, again, when the “heads of departments” scheme was proposed in the White Paper of 1939.