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The Department of Energy 1974 - 1992

The first association of a Government  Department with the energy industry was in 1850, when the Act for Inspection of Coal Mines was passed. Under subsequent Acts, Inspectors of Mines were appointed under the Home Office to administer these Acts and the Regulations made there under. The Board of Trade, the Department mainly concerned with the nation's industries, was generally responsible for the fuel and power industries apart from the enforcement of safety Regulations.

The Mines Department was set-up by the Mining Industry Act 1920 as a subsidiary of the Board of Trade, under a Parliamentary Secretary of the Board, with the title of Secretary for Mines. Under the Act, the Mines Department was charged with "securing the most effective development and utilisation of the mineral resources of the United Kingdom and the safety and health of those engaged in the mining industry". It took over all powers and duties of the Board of Trade in relation to mines and the mining industry and certain limited of functions of Government relating to the petroleum industry. It took over from the Home Office and the Mines Inspectorate the responsibility for health and safety in mines and quarries. The Board of Trade retained responsibility for the gas industry, but responsibility for the electricity industry had already been transferred by the Electricity (Supply) Act 1919, to the Ministry of Transport.

Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, steps were taken to concentrate the responsibilities for the fuel and power industries in one Department of State, and by Order in Council of 11th September 1941, the powers of the Ministry of Transport concerning electricity were returned to the Board of Trade. By a further Order in Council of 11th June 1942, the functions of the Board of Trade in relation to the fuel and power industries were transferred to the first Minister of Fuel and Power, whose wartime responsibilities included overall responsibility for coal production, allocation of supplies of solid fuels, control of all energy prices, and petrol rationing.

The functions of the Minister of Fuel and Power were broadly defined in the Ministry of Fuel and Power Act 1954, which charged the Minister "with the general duty of securing effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain, of maintaining and improving the safety, health and welfare of persons employed in or about mines and quarries therein and of promoting economy and efficiency in the supply, distribution, use and consumption of fuel and power, whether produced in Great Britain or not".

In January 1957, the style and title of the Minister was changed, by Order in Council, to the Minister of Power. At the same time the Minister assumed functions in relation to iron and steel previously carried out by the Board of Trade. October 1969 saw further changes; the Ministry of Power became part of the Ministry of Technology (Mintech) and in October 1970 Mintech merged with the Board of Trade to form the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI).

The Department of Energy was set-up in January 1974 when further changes in Whitehall resulted in responsibility for the energy industries being "hived off" from DTI. It was responsible for the development of national policies in relation to all forms of energy, including energy conservation and the development of new sources of energy. It was also concerned with the international aspects of energy policy. Specific functions included maintaining the Government's relationships with the former nationalised industries (coal gas and electricity) as well as the Atomic Energy Authority. The department was also the sponsoring Department for the nuclear power construction industry and the oil industry. It was responsible for the Government interest in the development of the oil and gas resources on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS) and for the Offshore Supplies Office in its role of developing the ability of UK suppliers to meet the needs of the offshore operators on the UKCS and throughout the rest of the world.

During the 1980's most of the energy industries were privatised and therefore supervision by the Department was less necessary. Indeed there were other bodies set-up as regulatory bodies, notably the Office for Electricity Regulation (OFFER) and the Office of Gas Supply (Ofgas). In 1992, after the general election of 9th April, Mr Major decided there was no longer a need for a separate Department concerned with the energy industries. Therefore the functions carried out by the Department of Energy returned, in the most part, to the Department of Trade & Industry. The Energy Efficiency Office, however, transferred to the Department of the Environment.

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