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The Board of Trade 1621-1970


1621 Privy Council directed by the King "to take into their consideration, the true causes of the decay of trade and scarcity of coyne within the Kingdom and to consult the means for the removing of these inconveniences". As a result a committee of enquiry was set up named 'The Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations' (this is still the formal title of the 'Board of Trade') and this committee can be regarded as the germ of the Board of Trade.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries trade matters remained the responsibility of Privy Council Committees. 
 
1696 William III set up a body of eight paid Commissioners "for promoting the trade of our Kingdom and for inspecting and improving our plantations in America and elsewhere".

Work on the plantations increasingly occupied the Board although it also had long periods of inactivity. After 1761, the Board of Trade was in chaos and, with the coming to power of the Rockingham Whigs in 1782, was abolished. 
 
1784 William Pitt recreated a Committee on Trade and Plantations by Order in Council. On 23 August 1786 this Committee was put on a formal basis by a further Order in Council. This 1786 Order still remains in force. A secretariat was set up; President, Vice President and Board members appointed.

1820 The Board ceased to meet regularly about 1820 because the President found he could dispatch business more effectively without the committee. In fact no quorum has ever been laid down and the President had the right to transact all business by himself. 
 
1850 The last formal meeting of the Board of Trade took place on 23 December. It has met only once since in 1986 (see below).

The Board's main function during the early nineteenth century was to advise the Crown on matters relating to economic activity in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. During the second half of the nineteenth century the Board also became responsible for new legislation on such matters as patents, designs and trade marks, company regulation, labour and factory matters, control of merchant shipping, mines. agriculture, transport, power and so on. While it retained its interest in internal and foreign trade, its control of colonial matters had passed to the Colonial Office by mid-nineteenth century.

1861  Section 65 of 'The Harbours and Passing Tolls etc Act' 1861 allowed the use of the official title of 'The Board of Trade'

"The Lords of the Committee of Privy Council appointed for the Consideration of Matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations may be described in all Acts of Parliament, Deeds, Contracts, and other Instruments, by the official Title of "the Board of Trade," without expressing their Names, and all Acts of Parliament, Contracts, Deeds, and other Instruments wherein they are so described shall be as valid as if the said Lords or any of them had been named therein". 
 
1889 Board of Agriculture re-created (taking over Fisheries in 1903).
During the twentieth century the greater intervention of the state in commercial and industrial affairs led to specialised functions being separated off into new ministries. 
 
1918 Ministry of Labour created. 
 
1920 Ministry of Transport created (excluding merchant shipping). 
 
1938 Ministry of Food created. 
 
1939 The Board's merchant shipping functions passed to the Ministry of Transport. 
 
1942 The Ministry of Fuel and Power created.

Despite the syphoning off of certain specialised functions, the Board still remained responsible for the country's economic life as a whole, whilst at the same time acquiring many new functions such as location of industry, control of monopolies, consumer protection and a major share in the work of sponsoring contacts between industry and government. 
 
1964 The Board re-acquired responsibility for merchant shipping.

The Ministry of Technology was formed partly from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and partly from the Board of Trade. 
 
1966 Board took over responsibility for the regulation of civil aviation from the Ministry of Aviation, and also acquired the duty of administering the legislation on investment grants. 
 
1969 On 6th October the Ministry of Power was absorbed into the Ministry of Technology. The Board of Trade's remaining industrial sponsorship functions were also transferred to the Ministry of Technology and competition policy went to the Department of Employment and Productivity.

Thus, from its beginning as a more or less temporary Committee of Inquiry, the Board of Trade gradually evolved. Firstly it developed into a Standing Council with a comprehensive reference, but without executive powers, and secondly, by many gradual stages, into a complex organic structure whose members became a highly technical department charged with executive duties, overshadowing the original consultative functions of the Board. 
 
1970 The Department of Trade and Industry came into being on the 20th October of that year. This new department united the trade and industrial policy functions previously carried out by the Board of Trade, and the Ministry of Technology. It also assumed responsibilities, from the Department for Employment and Productivity, for monopolies, mergers and restrictive trade practices.

The Order creating the Department of Trade and Industry allowed for the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to "exercise concurrently with the Board of Trade and the President of the Board responsibility for all the respective functions of the Board and President.." Though the government department known as the Board of Trade was no longer in practical existence the Board remained in existence for legal reasons and the Secretary of State retained the historic office of President of the Board of Trade.

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