Home Office Garter Crest

History of the Home Office 1782-1982 

[This extract is from Home Office 1782-1982 written to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Home Office in 1982. Some of the comments included may therefore be out of date.] 
The Home Office and the Foreign Office were born on 27 March 1782, when the Rockingham administration took office and the work of the two Principal Secretaries of State was divided in a new way. Many of the functions of the Secretaries of State, and their assistants, had existed since the office grew up in the 13th century; since the early 17th century foreign affairs had been divided between the Northern and Southern Department, with the Secretaries of State sharing domestic responsibilities. But in 1782, it was at last decided to divide more rationally, and that Charles James Fox should be responsible for foreign affairs, and the Earl of Shelburne for domestic (and also colonial) affairs. The staff were divided between the two offices, with most of the Southern Department staff coming to the Office of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which was and still is the correct title, though it came to be called the "Home Office" in common usage by the early years of the 19th century. It was not until the 1840s that the term was used officially.

The original staff of the Home Office was two Under-Secretaries (one of whom was regarded as attached to the Secretary of State, the other more permanent - it was not until 1831 that a clear distinction was drawn between Parliamentary and Permanent Under-Secretary), a Chief Clerk, four Senior and six Junior Clerks, joint Chamber Keepers and the ‘necessary woman’. The Office shared with the Foreign Office the Gazette Writer, the Keeper of State Papers, the Decypherer of Letters, and the Secretary of the Latin Language - the office once held by John Milton (who lived, and began Paradise Lost, on the site of the present Home office in Queen Anne’s Gate).

The first Home Secretary was Lord Shelburne who held office for four months, when he became the first Home Secretary to later become Prime Minister. The first Permanent Secretary was John Bell, but he asked for his pension after one month in the Home Office, and was succeeded by Evan Nepean, the first effective Permanent Secretary, who remained in office until 1791. He was a former Naval purser, hard-working and intelligent, whose health suffered from the weight of his Home Office duties. He was once entrusted by George III with the invidious duty of telling his Minister (Lord North) that he was sacked and must return the seals forthwith.

The earliest duties of the Home Office were heavily weighted in the direction of Crown grants, appointments and preferments of all kinds - the King’s business in fact. The Office was also the channel for the government affairs of Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and all colonies. Criminal business, which meant largely the use of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and transportation, was part of the responsibilities from the earliest days, though oddly enough the staff concerned did not come on the full establishment until 1870, and the Criminal Department did not in early years enjoy the prestige of the General, Domestic, or Chief Clerk’s Departments. The ‘King’s Peace’, or the maintenance of internal peace and order, at first through the agency of the magistrates and the military, and after 1829 increasingly through the police, was, and remained a heavy responsibility. The first Aliens Act came in 1793. The first immigration officers were inevitably the magistrates, but the Home Office had a small central sub-department and used King’s Messengers to carry out deportations. After victory over Napoleon control of movement of aliens was less and less enforced for nearly a century: a considerable change from the 1790s when an alien returning for a second time after deportation was liable to the death penalty.

As the sole general department of state concerned with internal affairs, it was inevitable that the Home Office should become the parent, or god-parent, of a succession of other departments; and should on the other hand acquire a series of new responsibilities as governments became concerned with new areas of activity. The first large shedding of responsibility came with the creation of the third Secretary (for War) in 1794, who also took over Colonies in 1801. Not, however, before the Home Department had taken the leading part in the peace negotiations with George Washington’s agent, Benjamin Franklin, and the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, had given his name to Sydney, Australia, whither he had despatched a party of convicts, who could no longer be sent to the former American colonies. It was on Lord Sydney’s direction too that Captain Bligh sailed in H.M.S. Bounty on his ill-fated expedition to transport breadfruit from the Pacific to the West Indies.

In the first decades of the 19th century, the pressures of was externally increased the anxiety of the authorities over internal disorder, and the period of office of Lord Sidmouth (1812-1822, the longest single term of any Home Secretary) was marked by constant struggles to suppress riots and demonstrations and to maintain order. Though personally a kindly man, and widely experienced - he had been Prime Minister and Speaker before he became Home Secretary - Sidmouth was pilloried by the reformers, the opposition and the press for such activities as his appointment of ‘Oliver the Spy’ to the Home Office books in 1817, his congratulations to the magistrates of Manchester after the Peterloo massacre, and his part in the subsequent ‘Six Acts’, which suspended Habeus Corpus and stepped up restrictions on meetings, demonstrations and publications.

Sidmouth was succeeded by one of the greatest of all Home Secretaries, Robert Peel, who held office from 1822-1827 and again from 1828-1830. He was responsible for eight criminal law Acts which modified and reformed the savage medieval jumble of the criminal law; and for the Prison Act 1823 which began the process of bringing order and some standards to the local prisons of the country; while in his second term he secured, after years of opposition, the passage of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 which gave us our first large, disciplined and uniformed police force. Peel was assisted by two notable and long-serving Under-Secretaries, Henry Hobhouse (1817-1827), an historian and antiquarian who was also Keeper of State Papers, and Samuel March Phillipps (1827-1848) the longest serving of all Permanent Under-Secretaries, a leading authority on the law of evidence and a man described as intelligent, conscientious and hard-working but overwhelmed by the multifarious business of the office. In his second terms Peel also had the help of his younger brother William, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary.

Despite the short lull in expressions of public discontent following the Great Reform Act in 1832, internal disorders and the struggle to maintain the King’s (or after 1837 the Queen’s) Peace continued to occupy a large part of the energies of Home Secretaries and their helpers. The Chartists had replaced the Luddites as the main focus, and the Home Office, aided by the indefatigable magistrates, the military and increasingly the professional police, struggled to keep order. In the 1830s under two more Home Secretaries who were future Prime Ministers, Lord Melbourne and Lord John Russell, the Municipal Corporations Acts of 1835, made provision for police forces in towns other than London, and the County Police Act 1839 laid the basis for rural police (though Parliament turned down the bold recommendation of a Royal Commission that there should be a national rural police). The reform of the criminal law continued; by 1841 although there remained eleven capital offences the death penalty was in practice kept for murder; and the treatment of serious offenders became less and less a matter for transportation or the hulks, with the opening of the new convict prisons, Millbank, Pentonville, Portland and Dartmoor. In 1833 the Home Office assumed a different and significant responsibility, which was to loom large throughout the next century. Under Lord Shaftesbury’s Factory Act the first Factory Inspectorate was set up as part of the Home Office and in 1842 the responsibility was extended to the mines. This was the beginning of the Home Office’s industrial and social responsibility. Perhaps it was just as well for the Office (if not for the country) that in 1843 Sir James Graham’s bold attempt, with the help of the Factory Inspectors, to introduce a national system of education was frustrated and this subject at least remained in the hands of a Privy Council committee until the formation of the Board of Education. Also in 1835, Lord John Russell appointed the first permanent Home Office Counsel - an office which was later to take on legal drafting for other departments and give birth to the modern Parliamentary Counsel’s Office in 1869. Another Home Office responsibility leading to a modern government office was that for the population census, begun in 1801.

All through this period references to action by the office, as distinct from ministers, relate in fact to very few people. The staff had increased only to 22 by 1850, though this omits the staff of convict prisons, the Factory Inspectorate and certain other sub-departments. But of these only the Under-Secretaries, Counsel and to a varying extent the Private Secretary contributed significantly to the process of policy making, or indeed, were allowed to minute papers or sign letters. The rest were in effect an extended registry, archive and copying department. They were appointed by patronage, and paid out of fees, though there was a deficit Vote. In 1848 when, as a former Home Secretary, Sir James Graham gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee it was taken for granted that he would have seen every letter addressed to the Home Office: he expressed the wish that there could be a ‘Ten Hour Bill’ applying to ministers.

The Office had thus acquired and begun to live with many of its most significant responsibilities. It had begun the pattern of acquiring new responsibilities and shedding old ones, though its methods of staffing and of work had hardly changed in seventy years. But in 1848, Sir George Grey, who had served three terms and a total of fourteen years as Home Secretary between 1846 and 1866, and who of all Home Secretaries took perhaps the closest interest in staffing and organisation, had set up a committee to consider these matters. ‘He is very strong for examinations’, commented the Chief Clerk.

1850-1914: from Palmerston to Churchill

Lord Palmerston was Home Secretary from 1852 to 1855 and Churchill in 1910 and 1911. Their greatest achievements were as Prime Ministers, but each left his mark on the Home Office. The Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act of 1854 began the long series of measures which indicated the Home Office interest in children in trouble with the law; and, perhaps surprisingly, the first Act to control off-course betting came under Palmerston. Churchill took a great interest in the sentences and treatment of offenders. He worked out, though never implemented, an elaborate system of ironing out discrepancies in sentences by using the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Perhaps surprisingly again, he was so interested in the first Shops Act that when he exchanged offices with McKenna in 1911 and went to the Admiralty, he took the supervision of the Parliamentary stages of the Shops Bill with him. These years saw the growth of the Home Office into an institution recognisable to modern eyes. The basic responsibilities for public order, the criminal law and the treatment of offenders continued to expand, as did the industrial duties; the process of hiving-off and giving birth to new departments on the one hand, and of taking on new responsibilities, particularly in the social fields, continued; and the recruitment of staff, the organisation of the office, and the methods of working moved steadily towards more resognisably modern conceptions. The Utilitarians’ three-pronged pattern pattern of attack on new subjects, investigation, legislation, and administration, remained the guide as it does today. In 1875 the Home Office moved to the Scott Building where it was to stay for 102 years.

Throughout the period, the work increased - by steady progression of existing duties and by acquisition of new responsibilities as the government moved into new spheres of activity. This was particularly marked under the three great reforming governments - Gladstone’s in 1868-1874, Disraeli’s in 1874-1880 and the Liberal administrations of 1905-1914 under Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith - but was by no means confined to those administrations. The Police Act of 1856, attempted by Palmerston and completed by Grey, made county forces compulsory, and provided for Home Office inspection through Inspectors of Constabulary. The Police (Expenses) Act of 1874 introduced the 50% grant towards police costs, and the Local Government Act of 1888 set up the pattern of control of county forces through Standing Joint Committees which lasted until 1964. The Prisons Act of 1877 created the Prison Commission and finally brought all prisons under control of the Home Secretary. In the field of criminal law, the Extradition Acts of 1870 and 1873 opened the way for bilateral treaties with most countries in the world, the Summary Jurisdiction Act 1879 and the Justices’ Clerks Act 1877 established Home Office controls over the administration of Magistrates Courts which remained little altered until after the Second World War; there were weighty consolidating Acts such as the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and the Larceny Act 1879. The Summary Jusrisdiction Act 1879 introduced the possibility of probation of offenders and in 1907 the Probation of Offenders Act provided for the appointment of Probation Officers and set up the Probation Service. As examples of new work, the Explosives Act of 1875, largely the work of Col. Sir Vivian Majendie, the first Chief Inspector of Explosives, followed upon the blowing up of a gunpowder barge on the Regent’s Canal, and in 1876 there was the Cruelty to Animals Act, again setting up an Inspectorate and providing for control of experiments on living animals. Sir Edward Troop observed grimly that earlier Home Office interest in this field had been mainly directed to the availability for scientific experiment of the bodies of executed criminals. The Liquor Licensing Act of 1872 gave the Home Office new and controversial duties as did the Food and Drugs Act 1875.

The industrial responsibilities of the Home Office also grew apace. The Factories and Workshops Act of 1874 repealed and consolidated all earlier law, the Act of 1883 brought white lead factories and bakeries under control and the Act of 1895 added laundries, docks and warehouses. The Trucks Act gave Factory Inspectors the job of enforcing prohibitions on payments in kind, and the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1897 introduced, unwillingly, by Home Secretary Matthew Ridley under pressure from Joseph Chamberlain, gave the Home Office a new and most intricate area of responsibility. Control of aliens awoke as a subject from its long slumber under pressure of immigration from eastern Europe, and the unworkable Aliens Act of 1905, which controlled entry only for passengers coming by steerage in large boats, at least impelled the Home Office to organise for the more effective controls which became essential in 1914.

Many of these Acts were preceded by committees, commissions and enquiries of all kinds which threw more work on the Office. Many were also preceded, or followed, by agitations and strenuous activities of pressure groups— sometimes urging the Home Office and the government to take action, as with the agitation culminating in the articles by W. T. Stead on ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, which gave rise to the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885; sometimes urging the Home Office and the government not to legislate, as with the Police Acts and the liquor licensing legislation. Many were followed by complex regulations, inspection, or administrative action. Sir Adolphus Liddell, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State in 1873 said to a Select Committee, ‘Acts of Parliament are passed now, not defining what is to be done, but leaving a great deal to be worked out by the Secretary of State.’ His successors, like his contemporaries, knew just what he meant.

The perennial concern of the Home Office with public order could not, alas, fade away in the peaceful flow of the late Victorian and Edwardian golden ages. There was less disorder, but there were still difficult and painful decisions to be taken. Spencer Walpole when Home Secretary in 1866 was said to have been reduced to tears by the destruction wrought in Hyde Park by the Reform League mob; and in 1886 a riot in Trafalgar Square led to the resignation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In 1911 Churchill’s dispatch of troops to Tonypandy (and also his dispatch of a contingent of Metropolitan Police to avoid, if possible, the use of troops) have entered into popular history. The Suffragette agitation in the early 20th century gave the Home Office a quite new kind of rioter and prisoner to deal with. There was a more directed violence in the 1870s and 1880s with the Fenian bomb and dynamite outrages, which included an attempt in 1883 to blow up the new Home Office/Local Government Board building. The Home Office had added Robert (later Sir Robert) Anderson to its staff in 1867 as an Assistant in Irish affairs to organise intelligence. In later years, he became Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, and he is also noteworthy in that he was suspected of being one of the first ‘leakers’ to the press among senior civil servants. He certainly wrote, later on, chatty articles in Blackwood’s Magazine about former colleagues In this period, as before and afterwards; the statement of a later Home Secretary (Herbert Morrison) that ‘the corridors of the Home Office are paved with dynamite’ remained true. The reverberations, for example, of the Adolf Beck case in 1903, where petitions were rejected by the Home Office but mistaken identity was subsequently proved, went on in the Criminal Department for fifty years, and the case was a factor in the setting up of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1908. Almost every division or department could produce cases where trouble, like a hurricane, arrived out of a comparatively blue sky.


The radical trend in government profoundly affected every aspect of staffing in the Office. The Committee see up in 1848 by Sir George Grey reported in 1850 and their report pointed to the abolition of patronage and the testing by examination of new entrants. This was helped by the abolition of payment by fees, and the payment out of Votes in 1849. It took another Committee, again set up by Grey, in 1856, before the examination system was fully accepted, and the beginning of the end of the ‘Spats and Whiskers’ brigade, as they were described by a disgruntled contemporary, came in sight. This Committee also gave rise to the appointment of the first Home Office Statistician (Samuel Redgrave). Although most of the service came to accept recruitment by open examination by the Civil Service Commissioners in 1870 following the Northcote/ Trevelyan reforms, the Home Office did not come into line until 1873, and then only after a further report (the Knatchbull-Hugesson Report), and a deus ex machina intervention by Gladstone, who transferred the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Robert Lowe) to the Home Office. After long arguments with the Treasury, during which it was pointed out that no promotion had been made to Senior Clerk in the Home Office for twenty-four years, a new organisation and establishment was set up. The Chief Clerk’s post was abolished, and there were, in the central Home Office, three Departments, (General, Criminal and Domestic) with three Principal Clerks (later Assistant Secretaries), three Senior Clerks (later Principals), and seven Juniors, and a subordinate establishment, later to become the Executive and Clerical grades. The central office staff was far outnumbered by the staffs of the inspectorates and of the convict prisons; and the disparity increased in 1878 when the Prison Commissioners assumed responsibility for local prisons. The inspectorates and the field executive blossomed. It was they who imposed central co-ordination and some uniformity of practice in many fields, rather than the small central administrative staff, who however still struggled to keep the specialists ‘on tap’ and not ‘on top’.

The staff grew with the work throughout the last quarter of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th; but in 1913 came the grand re-organisation which made the office for the first time recognisable to the modern eye. There were six Divisions under Assistant Secretaries, and designated by letters of the alphabet: A was industrial, B was liquor licensing, aliens, nationality, byelaws and private bills, C was criminal, police and probation, (police acquired a separate division immediately on the outbreak of war in 1914), D was children, white slave traffic, obscene publications and establishments, (a juxtaposition which did not escape the attention of the office wits), E was royal and ceremonial, explosives, vivisection, and many miscellaneous functions, F was Metropolitan Police, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, finance, wild birds and aeroplanes—another happy juxtaposition. The total staff had grown to 900, including now the inspectorates, but excluding prison staff; in the First Division above the six Assistant Secretaries were the Permanent Under-Secretary, and two Assistant Under-Secretaries, one legal, who had replaced the old Home Office Counsel, and one general, and below them were 23 Principals and Juniors (Assistant Principals). The Legal Under-Secretary was Ernley Blackwell, appointed in 1906 who continued in office until 1931, and was engaged in advisory duties in the second world war.

The methods too had changed. Up till the 1870s the Permanent Secretary saw every paper, and none but he and the Assistant Under-Secretary, were allowed to minute papers or sign letters. Under pressure of increasing work loads and the demands of the new, energetic, and intelligent open entrants this system was gradually eroded. The Assistant Secretaries came to play an important part in policy making, as did some of the Principals, and some of the Second Division and Assistant Clerks—particularly the Accountant (the first of whom, Richard Pennefather, was appointed in 1868 and retired in 1909 as Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District). In the great days of the Central Registry, 1900 1914, there were four of the staff who subsequently became Assistant Secretaries, and two more who became Principals. Typewriters had replaced the pen for correspondence by 1910. The first lady typists had come in amidst much head-shaking and trepidation. The telephone was installed in 1882—though internal speaking tubes remained in use until the 1920s. Coal fires remained in use in the Whitehall building until the 1960s .

In this period the process of hiving-off gained speed. The Home Office contributed to the birth of the Local Government Boud in 1871 (subsequently the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and now part of the Department of the Environment); the Scottish Office in 1885, which put an end to over a hundred years of the management of Scotland by the Home Secretary with the assistance of the Lord Advocate; and the Board (later Ministry) of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1889 which took over the Land Commissioners and the Inspector of Fisheries from the Home Office after a sojourn by the latter in the Board of Trade. According to Sir Edward Troup, the Inspector of Fisheries once insisted on bringing a stranded whale into the Home Office quadrangle in Whitehall until his nearly-asphyxiated colleagues petitioned for its removal. It may be noted that the lobby for the setting up of the Local Government Board, arguing that insufficient attention was being given to local government matters, was not hindered by the fact that the official in charge of the Home Office sub-Department, the Local Government Acts Department, was Tom Taylor, who was renowned for having written 100 plays and for becoming, subsequently the editor of Punch, but hardly for his conscientious attention to office duties.

In this period too, more conventional members of the staff begin to take shape as flesh and blood individuals rather than portraits on paper. The Rt. Hon. Horatio Waddington, who was Permanent Under-Secretary from 1848 to 1867, was a professional lawyer like all the other Permanent Under-Secretaries until 1908, a heavyweight case worker, trusted by a succession of Home Secretaries. His successor, Sir Adolphus Liddell, had been a fellow of All Souls, but, it was said, was elected for social, rather than intellectual reasons. He was famous for his bonhomie and an ability to get his way by an imperturbable charm. He was accompanied everywhere in the office by his collie dog. He died while still in office, and was succeeded in 1885 by Godfrey Lushington, who had since 1869 been Assistant Under-Secretary (Legal). Lushington was regarded by some as a dangerous radical, and Lord Salisbury thought him unsound on religion, since he was a Positivist. He gave his life to the office, supervising everything in the smallest detail, and according to H. H. Asquith, Home Secretary when he retired in 1895, he spent his holidays writing memoranda on such matters as police superannuation, employers liability, and the Truck Acts. In his time the battles between the central Home Office and the powerful sub-Departments began. The papers resound with argument with du Cane, the first Chairman of the Prison Commission, and with Warren the fiery Commissioner of Police. Lushington retired in 1895 to be succeeded by Digby, who had been a cricket blue and a County Court judge; and he in 1903 by Mackenzie Chalmers, Parliamentary Counsel—a return for our transfer of Lord Thring to set up Parliamentary Counsels’ Office thirty years before. But the 1890s and first decades of the 20th century in the Home Office were dominated largely by Edward Troup, who entered the office in 1880 as one of the first open entrants, became Assistant Under-Secretary in 1903, and Permanent Under-Secretary 19081922. He served in many parts of the office, and when he retired it was said ‘he touched nothing which he did not illuminate’. He was described by Sir Harold Scott who served under him, as a heavy and rather humourless Scot, but in fact his writings often show a wry humour, and he was the first Permanent Under-Secretary to consider delegation of responsibility as a right course in itself, rather than as a regrettable necessity conceded to overwhelming pressure of work. When Troup was promoted he passed over A. H. S. Cunyinghame the Legal Assistant UnderSecretary, an unusual civil servant, who was best known as a practical scientist and Vice President of the Institute of Electrical Engineers; he invented a new safety match, and filled the Home Secretary’s room with choking smoke while demonstrating a safety lamp he had invented. He was consoled for non-promotion by the award of a K.C.B., and retired in 1913.

1914-1945: War and Peace

The life of the Home Office in this period, like the life of the nation, was shaped by the strains and the demands imposed by the two Great Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45, the preparation for them, and coping with their aftermaths. It was a period of even more frequent change in Home Secretaries than had been the average in the 19th century— sixteen Home Secretaries in thirty-one years, two of them, Herbert Samuel and John Simon, serving two separate periods. Only two Home Secretaries held office for periods much over two years—Joynson Hicks in the Conservative Government 1924-1929 and Herbert Morrison, the third Labour Home Secretary though serving in the wartime Coalition Government, from 1940 to 1945. Each of these left distinctive, though very different, marks on the Home Office. By contrast, there were four Permanent Secretaries in the period, Edward Troup until 1922, then for ten years John Anderson, afterwards Lord Waverly, who became in 1939 the only former Permanent Secretary to be appointed Home Secretary, and was later Lord President of the Council. Nicknamed in the office ‘Ja Jehovah’, he was an awe-inspiring, dominating figure in Home Office and national affairs, though always to some degree remote from the internal concerns of the Office, because of his involvements in the wider scene. Russell Scott came from the Treasury in 1932, as one of its periodic doses of fresh air for the Home Office, and in his six years (leading up to the war) did much to humanise the office. In his turn he was succeeded by Alexander Maxwell, who had arrived in the office in 1904 and had ascended through the posts of Chairman of the Prison Commission and Deputy Under-Secretary of State. He was cast on the model of Edward Troup, quiet and unassuming but with an all-embracing intellectual grasp. He was a sincere, and even passionate liberal who believed in the Home Office as a bastion of liberty, and during the war he, with Herbert Morrison as his minister, fought this cause in difficult circumstances.

The first world war, like the second, took away many of the younger members of the staff for service in the forces. Of those who remained in 1914-18, six out of seven were engaged on war duties. The direct attack on the United Kingdom was not on anything like the scale of that in 1939-45, although I ,413 people were killed by air attack, 670 of them in London in the Zeppelin raids or the ‘Gotha’ attacks which followed them. The situation was sufficiently serious for General Smuts, the South African premier and a member of the War Cabinet, to be appointed special adviser on home defence against air raids—which would not be likely to have happened in the second war under Anderson or Herbert Morrison.

The police, with the special constabulary, carried out in 1914-1918 many of the duties performed by the civil defence armies of 1939-45—as wardens, air-raid alarm givers, blackout inspectors and fireguards. The expansion of their duties, and the ever-increasing need for the Home Office to take on central leadership, was to transform the relationship between the Home Office and the police in following years. In 1918, delegates from Police Districts attended the Home Office for the first meeting of the Central Conference of Chief Officers of Police. There began an ever-expanding, and still continuing, administrative effort by the Home Office, in which, while the operational independence of the police was respected, every aspect of police administration became the subject of committees, consultations, and guidance, backed up by the power of making regulations under the 1919 Police Act. By the 1930s substantial beginnings had been made in the provision of central services by the Home Office in collaboration with police authorities—forensic laboratories and communications services were the first. All was not smooth and peaceful development, in 1918, while the war was still in progress, there was a bitter strike by the Metropolitan Police over pay and conditions. In 1919 there were further strikes in London, Birmingham and Merseyside over the right to belong to a trade union, before the service settled down with the new Police Federation and Police Council, and a generous pay settlement following the Desborough Committee.

War brought responsibilities in many fields to the Home Office under the Defence of the Realm Regulations —the corpus known as DORA. War circumstances called for new powers and duties in the control of aliens, both of movement in and out, and the internment of 30,000 enemy aliens. The camps for them and for those detained under Defence Regulations 14B, (18B in the second world war) were transferred to the Home Office from the War Office, as was also the difficult duty of finding employment for those accepted by tribunals as conscientious objectors. The Press Bureau, (the forerunner of the Ministry of Information and C.O.I.) was also transferred to the Home Office. The subject of trading with the enemy went the other way, leaving the Home Office for the Board of Trade. Intelligence and anti-spy activity was also a notable part of Home Office duty and the partnership of the Home Secretary, the intelligence services and the Special Branch in internal security affairs began to grow. The Factory Inspectorate too had a much expanded responsibility, and many officers left to help war-time production departments. None the less the responsibility stayed in the Home Office for another twenty years. Troubles in the mines, however, made it clear that a separate department to deal with all aspects, political, economical and industrial, was necessary; and the Mines Department, one more Home Office offspring, was set up in 1920. Sir Edward Troup wondered mildly how a whole department would occupy itself with what had been the responsibility of a small handful of Home Office staff.

The pattern of hiving-off and taking-in continued through the inter-war years. After the lapse of half a century, Irish affairs again became an active Home Office concern when the Government of Ireland Act in 1920 and the subsequent treaty made the Home Office the link with the new government and Parliament in Northern Ireland (a responsibility which continued until the setting up of the Northern Ireland Office in 1972). A novel responsibility for the Home Office was the acquisition of the State Management District hotels and public houses in Carlisle and district. These had been nationalised during the war under a Central Control Board as a social experiment to reduce drinking by munition workers. The ‘social experiment’ lost its way, but the responsibility remained with the Home Office until 1974. In I 920 the Home Office acquired central responsibility for elections from the Local Government Board in return for handing over the responsibility for mental institutions (except Broadmoor). Aliens control was placed on a permanent temporary basis by the Aliens Restrictions Acts of 1914 and 1919, which had to be annually reviewed by Parliament right up to 1971.


After 1918 Home Secretaries and the Home Office, like their predecessors after the Napoleonic Wars, found themselves much involved in coping with public disorder and maintaining the King’s Peace. Post-war strikes in the docks, mines and railways, led the Coalition Government, with war-time experience fresh in mind, to consider the maintenance of essential supplies; and ultimately the Emergency Powers Act 1920 provided for a regulation-making power, by Order in Council after a proclamation and Parliamentary approval. Official planning, under the Permanent Under-Secretary, Anderson, produced a scheme for a nationwide net of committees, supply centres, and volunteer organisations, the whole based on the division of the country into regions, to maintain supplies and services, the essentials of life; this planning and organisation was fully tested in the nine days of the general strike in 1926, as were the much improved Home Office relations with the police, and the police relations with the public. The next severe testing of the machinery for maintaining public order came in the 1930s from Sir Oswald Mosley’s marching Black Shirts. The Public Order Act 1936 proved successful in providing new powers for banning provocative uniforms and controlling marches. Sir William Joynson-Hicks’s time of office (1924-9) and the years immediately following under the Labour and National Governments was a main period of development of Home Office legislation. Thereafter, preparations for possible war began more and more to pre-occupy the Home Office planners. Sir William was serious, industrious, and, some said, narrow. He was attacked by Opposition and the press as the embodiment of the spirit of DORA, the war-time attitude of restriction by regulation. Certain prosecutions of writers for what now would be regarded as extremely mild productions, were, not altogether fairly, ascribed to his influence. He was a man of firm religious beliefs, and laying down his official mantle of Home Secretary on a free vote, he led the Parliamentary attack which stopped the introduction of the revised Church of England Prayer Book in 1927 and 1928. As Home Secretary he was responsible for the Representation of the People Act 1928 which, after nearly a century of reform, finally gave the vote to all citizens over 21 of either sex; until then the Suffragettes had had to be satisfied, under the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, with votes for women at 30.

Each of the twenty years of peace had seen some Home Office legislation and the pattern became finally established that Home Office ministers were active in Parliament in every session. 1925 saw the introduction of the important Criminal Justice Administration Act; 1933 the Children and Young Persons Act which laid down arrangements for juvenile courts. In 1937, as well as the brief Abdication Act, came the first serious legislation on fire brigades—fourteen years after a Royal Commission had recommended it. But the onset of the war came before full implementation, and by the end of the war it was clear that the powers were inadequate. The Criminal Justice Bill of 1938 which contained a whole series of carefully prepared provisions was also caught by the outbreak of war, and not enacted till 1948. The years of peace also brought a heavy Home Office involvement in international affairs through League of Nations commissions, the International Labour Office, and the control of drugs. It was said in the 1920s that the newest Home Office Branch was in Geneva.

The preparations against the possibility of war formed an increasingly important part of Home Office work from 1923 onwards, when it was decided by the Cabinet that the Home Office should be the responsible department for air raid precautions, and an A.R.P. Committee of the Imperial Defence Committee was set up with Sir John Anderson as chairman. The first A.R.P. Department of the Home Office was set up in 1935 and Wing Commander (later Sir John) Hodsoll came from being Secretary of the A.R.P. Committee to take charge of it. By 1936 Home Office staff, apart from the Prison Commission, had increased from 950 just after the first war to I,100, and by 1938 to 1,600, of whom 360 were engaged in A. R. P . duties, with a further contingent on war-time and firefighting planning duties. In these years a pattern of division of duties between operations and administration, familiar in the armed services, was adopted by the Home Office for civil defence; and later the central fire service effort and the National Fire Service were organised on this basis. Control of A.R.P. services on the ground was exercised through local authorities, who had been brought in as partners of the government since 1935. The Home Office continued to cling to its old titles. Hodsoll became the Chief Inspector and later Inspector General of A.R.P. and Civil Defence W. H., later Sir Wilfred, Eady came as one of an increasing number of civil servants posted to the Home Office, to be the Deputy Under-Secretary of State in charge of A.R.P.

The Munich crisis of 1938 provided an agonising trial run for much of the national war planning, and a new urgency and new machinery were called forth. Sir J. Anderson (after governing Bengal), returned to enter the Government as Lord Privy Seal, with headquarters in the Home Office to develop the war planning. Sir T. Gardiner from the G.P.O. was appointed his chief of staff and designated Permanent Secretary of the new Ministry of Home Security, whose necessity in war was now recognised. In 1938 the W.V.S. was initiated under its formidable chairman the Dowager Marchioness of Reading; and in the same year the Home Office got its first full-time Establishment Officer (W. Wilson borrowed from the Ministry of Labour).


The outbreak of war in September 1939 saw the immediate creation of the Ministry of Home Security with the appointment of Anderson as Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security. This was a twin rather than a child of the Home Office—the Departments continued to share common services, but Home Security rapidly outgrew its twin, rising to a peak of 6,000 civil service staff with an army of more than I l/2 million full-time and part-time volunteers. The outbreak of war also saw the creation of a substantial regional organisation (11 Regions plus Scotland), with experienced public men as Regional Commissioners. The first months of war brought little activity, but the air attacks of the ‘Blitz’, which began in earnest in August 1940 put great stress upon the communities attacked, their services and the government machine. Herbert Morrison, well known in London for his work on the L.C.C., moved from the Ministry of Supply to become Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security, where he remained till 1945—a stocky commonsense figure, capable of inspiring those who served him to better their best efforts. He had the assistance, on Home Security, of the first woman minister to work in the Home Office— Ellen Wilkinson.

The incendiary bomb attacks of the winter of 1940/41 demonstrated the inadequacy of the fire prevention services, which were still under a multiplicity of local authorities, though co-ordinated by the Home Office and supported by the Auxiliary Fire Service. Under the National Fire Service (Emergency Provisions) Act 1941, the Home Office set about creating a national service and until 1947 administered and controlled a national force of 350,000 men and women. A. L. (Sir Arthur) Dixon, who had made his mark in police administration between the wars, and Commander (Sir Aylmer) Firebrace were the leading figures in administration and operational control respectively. A further force of fire watchers was created in 1943 to deal with small outbreaks and give alarms. (The Ministry set them up with a 72-page memorandum, described in one region as ‘As long as the Book of Genesis and as difficult to swallow’.)

Although the air attacks were reduced after the invasion of U.S.S.R. by Germany in the summer of 1941, continuing raids and the later attacks by Vl flying bombs and V2 rockets kept the civil defence services on alert almost to the end of the war in Europe. The final toll of casualties was 60,595 killed, (28,890 in London), and 86,182 admitted to hospital (50,507 in London). The Ministry of Home Security ceased to exist on 31 May 1945; the Civil Defence army was run down, and the Home Office took on the job of winding up the remaining responsibilities of its twin—and very soon thereafter of setting them up again. The Ministry of Home Security reversed the pattern of ministers changing more frequently than permanent secretaries. Three Permanent Secretaries followed Sir Thomas Gardiner: Sir George Gater, who was brought in by Herbert Morrison from the L.C.C.; Sir Harold Scott who had been Chairman of the Prison Commission and the Chief Administrative Officer of the London Civil Defence Region (and after the war was Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis); and, the last Permanent Secretary, Sir W. Brown from the Air Ministry.

War-time activity was not concentrated in the Ministry of Home Security. Apart from the retention of the fire responsibility by the Home Office, there was greatly increased activity by the police, augmented by the Police War Reserve. There was the problem of running the prisons (with the Prison Commission evacuated to Oxford). There was the central and co-ordinating responsibility for the vast corpus of emergency legislation and defence regulations under which almost every aspect of life was directed and controlled in the interests of the war effort. The internment of aliens, particularly under the threat of invasion and a fifth column, the detention of those thought to be a threat to national security under Defence Regulations 18B and the control of some work of the press under Regulation 2D gave rise to great anxiety and brought work of a new kind to the Office. The arrival of several European governments fleeing from German invasion, with many men of defeated armies who wished to continue fighting, the coming of vast new armies from America and the Commonwealth, and the flow of refugees, all imposed demands on the Home Secretary and the Home Office; and the problems of maintaining under abnormal conditions the necessary administration of many continuing functions of the Home Office imposed a long and continuing strain.

Under the testing fires of war the Home Office changed. Relationship with police and the machinery of the control of aliens were transformed in the first war; the relationship with the fire service by the testing under enemy attack in the second. These were symbolic of changes which ran through many areas. In the second war the Home Office, with its twin the Ministry of Home Security, became a major department in numbers, requiring a modern establishment and finance organisation to weld the enlarged staff of civil servants, academics, ex-service officers and other temporaries into a cohesive whole. New problems had to be tackled: quick operational decisions, the control of forces running to a million and a half men and women, organisation of supply and expenditure on a massive scale. The doctrine of ‘trust the man on the spot’ became an essential principle of administrative operation; and the need to carry general public confidence, as well as the confidence of Parliament and informed and professional lobbies, became of first importance. The first Press Officer was appointed only in 1936, but during the war press and public relations grew to be a major concern, headed at Under-Secretary level. There were very few people whose lives were not directly affected by the decisions taken in the joint headquarters of the two departments in Whitehall.

1945-1982: The Swings of the Pendulum

After 1945 the Home Office, like the nation, experienced the alternating tension of the conflicting desires for ‘all change’ and ‘back to normal’. In 1945 there was much to be done to catch up in fields which had been necessarily neglected during the war, and there was a heavy task in running down the war-time machinery, organisational and legislative. It was some years before much new thinking or method emerged. Throughout the period, the Home Office continued to find the main demands for energy and resources in the areas of police administration, the criminal law and the treatment of offenders, but found these joined increasingly by a fourth focal point—aliens and Commonwealth immigrants, British nationality, and new responsibilities in British society arising from the presence of ethnic minorities; and from 1968-1972, affairs of Northern Ireland occupied more Home Office concern and attention than they had for fifty years. Functions continued to be shed to other departments. The final steps to disengage the Home Office from its century-old responsibility for factory inspection were taken in 1945, when the Inspectorate remained in its wartime home with the Ministry of Labour and National Service, and direct Home Office responsibility for industrial matters declined accordingly. Workmen’s compensation went to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in 1946, and responsibility for conditions in shops and offices (which Winston Churchill when Home Secretary had conferred upon the Home Office) was moved to the Ministry of Labour in the 1960s. Employment of children left the Home Office list of responsibilities as part of the much larger transfer of the Children’s Department to the Department of Health and Social Security in 1971. On the other hand, the old pattern of accretion balancing loss continued, and important new areas of activity came into the Office with the growth of the Equal Opportunities and Community Programmes Department in the later 1960s and early 1970s, and the transfer of central responsibility for broadcasting and radio regulatory work in 1974.

The Home Secretary throughout the two Attlee Governments from 1945 to 1951 was James Chuter Ede, wry, radical and Nonconformist. He was succeeded by four Conservative Home Secretaries in the period 1951-1964, David Maxwell Fyfe, industrious and serious minded, a lawyer to his fingertips, Gwilym Lloyd George relaxed and easy-going, R. A. Butler under whom some

giant steps of change and development were taken, and Henry Brooke who consolidated some of the changes, and had to battle against a heavy burden of media attack and satirical criticism of the Office. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and Major Lloyd George were Ministers for Welsh Affairs as well as Home Secretaries; and Mr. Butler had numerous other responsibilities including leadership of the House, and for a short time ministerial responsibility for Central Africa. Alexander Maxwell continued as Permanent Under-Secretary of State until 1948, when he was succeeded by Frank Newsam. He had joined the Office in 1920, and was appropriately described by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe as ‘an original’. He was seen at his best in a crisis, or when urgent practical action was required, and the Office still treasures many stories of his unconventional behaviour. He retired in 1957, and was succeeded by Charles Cunningham who came from a brilliant career in the Scottish Home Department, and played a full part in the re-shaping of the Office in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was not, in fact, until the time of R. A. Butler and Cunningham that the Office came to be recognisably different from its pre-war self.


Through all the changes of personalities, the pressure of work remained high. Major Acts of Parliament cluster thickly on either side of the year 1950. In 1947 the Fire Services Act repealed both pre-war and wartime legislation, and gave responsibility back to local authorities, in accordance with a promise by Herbert Morrison. The number of brigades was, however, reduced from over 1,Q00 to 135 and the Home Office retained some central powers. 1948 was the annus mirabilis of Home Office legislation. There was a new Civil Defence Act, (the run-down of the Civil Defence organisation had lasted only three years, when the Berlin air-lift crisis and worsening international relations compelled its setting up again): the Criminal Justice Act, which picked up and extended the lost Bill of 1938 and introduced major changes in the treatment of offenders and the criminal law; the British Nationality Act which laid down the pattern of British nationality and naturalisation for over thirty years; the Children Act which followed the Report of the Curtis Committee and greatly extended Home Office responsibilities, giving the Office for twenty three years responsibility for children deprived of a normal home life; and a major Act on elections aryl electoral practices, the Representation of the People Act which abolished the business and university graduate votes. The Justices of the Peace Act 1949, the Visiting Forces Act 1952, and massive consolidation Acts, the Licensing Act 1949, the Representation of the People Act 1949, the Costs in Criminal Cases Act 1952, the Magistrates Courts Act and the Prisons Act of the same year, and the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1957 set up a broad platform for further advance, though it was not for several years that the shape of a forward movement began to emerge.

Legislation provides the skeleton, but administration adds the flesh of a government department. The life of the Home Office has provided over and over again a pattern of cases which at any moment can demand the attention of ministers, Parliament and, it sometimes seems, the whole nation. They can be cases dealt with by the courts in which injustice is alleged (and sometimes established), criticism of police handling of particular matters or individuals, or the exercise of the Home Secretary’s power in respect of aliens or Commonwealth citizens. There can be major national emergencies such as the East Coast floods of 1953 where the Home Office were called upon to exercise a co-ordinating role over the government action; or the need to create new pieces of machinery such as the AngloEgyptian Resettlement Board in 1956 to deal with refugees coming to the United Kingdom after the Suez crisis. In one respect the possible number of cases catching the public eye was sharply reduced when the imposition of capital punishment was limited to certain categories of murder by the Homicide Act 1957. There were, as always, activities which did not immediately make a public impact but imposed strain upon the Office. One important step taken in 1952 remained unpublicised for eleven years. In that year Sir David Maxwell Fyfe clarified the position of the Home Office and the Security Service in a memorandum to the Director General, making it plain that the latter was responsible personally to the Home Secretary, though he had a right of access to the Prime Minister. This arrangement was quoted with approval by Lord Denning in his report in 1963 on the Profumo affair, and more recently again by the Prime Minister in 1979. 1957 also saw the production of a definitive report on the interception of letters and telephone calls under the Secretary of State’s warrant, by a committee of Privy Councillors chaired by Lord Birkett; their report was reviewed by a further committee in 1981.

Home Office staff numbers continued to grow, though not at an even pace. After the post-war sorting out, staff numbered 10,500 almost equally divided between the Home Office and the Prison Commission, which continued until 1963 to be separate departments for staff and Vote purposes. By 1956 the total staff was 13,800, 6,500 in the Home Office and 7,300 in the Prison Commission, thus marking a process of outstripping, which by 1981 was to result in the Prison Department out-numbering the Home Office by two to one. The organisation chart in the mid-fifties showed under the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, two Deputy Under-Secretaries of State, one concentrating on Civil Defence and Fire, seven Assistant Under-Secretaries plus a Chief Planner, and 26 Assistant Secretaries in charge of Divisions.

The late 1950s ushered in a period in which, in the Home Office, as in many other areas of the nation’s life, there was a confidence that directed research and study modern methods and application of increased resources could bring measurable and visible improvements in many of the areas of government activity and solve the problems of society. Mr. Butler was in a unique position to make demands for the allocation of resources to his department and to exercise a free hand in his policy-making. He placed great emphasis on the possibilities of research, and in 1957 the Home Office Research Unit was launched, (there had been a single professional Statistician since 1952). In 1958 the Criminal Law Revision Committee was established; and Penal Practice in a Changing Society, the first general discussion document on penal methods since the Gladstone Report in 1895, was published in 1959. The first report on the use of computers in the Home Office and Metropolitan Police was also published in 1959; and in 1960 the Royal Commission on the Police was set up, which was to lead to the most fundamental changes in the police administration for a century. The Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, which had been in existence since 1944, was given a new lease of life and activity. In 1961 there was a report of a working party which led to the establishment of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.


In 1962 a fundamental change in Home Office responsibilities was initiated by the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which after several years of debate and discussion introduced controls over the entry into the United Kingdom of persons who had previously been admitted freely as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, or Commonwealth citizens. A new division was set up in 1963 to handle the administrative consequences (B3). In 1963 also, the Prison Commission, after a separate existence of 86 years was integrated with the Home Office. Internally, the pattern of growth continued and the rate increased. By 1963 the numbers of staff had increased to 19,000 including 12,000 in the Prison Department. The organisational shape changed in accordance with the growth. In 1961 a full-time Principal Establishment Officer at Assistant Under-Secretary level was appointed, and in 1963 a full-time Principal Finance Officer. An example of the growth in the administrative machine at this time was the history of C Division—the long-established Criminal Division, which was the last of the old ‘line’ divisions to be fragmented. At the beginning of 1957 there was one division; by 1964 there were three divisions broadly focused on criminal policy and case work, machinery of justice, mental health and international criminal work; by 1980 the growth had been to five administrative divisions .

The change of government in 1964 brought no slackening in the patterns of growth and development. After a short term of just over a year of office for Sir Frank Soskice, Roy Jenkins became Home Secretary at the end of 1965. Cunningham retired in 1966 and Philip Allen, who from the earliest stages of his career in the Home Office had advanced inevitably to the headship of the Office came into his own. It was an interesting repetition of the position nine years earlier, with a reforming Home Secretary and new Permanent Under-Secretary of State in joint harness to change, develop and improve. Mr. Jenkins had already as a private member in 1959 piloted the Obscene Publications Act, which had paved the way for major liberalisation of published material available, and throughout both his first and second terms of office as Home Secretary he threw his influence in favour of liberalising the laws affecting various types of human behaviour. He also showed himself in favour of justifying the Home Secretary’s activities to public and to Parliament to a degree not previously entertained, and thus sought for a more general understanding of many of the difficult problems with which the Home Office had to deal.

The guiding principles of policy on the criminal law, the Queen’s Peace and the treatment of offenders continued to be to improve the efficiency of the police, to modernise and make more effective the criminal law and legal systems, and to devise more efficacious methods of handling offenders—both institutionally and in the community. The recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Police and the powers conferred by the Police Act 1964 provided the main thrust for improving the efficiency of the police: the number of forces was reduced from 117 to 43, the Inspectorate strengthened and re-organised and the centralised services built up under guidance of the Home Office—particularly the Police College and recruit Training Centres, the Scientific Research and Development Branch, the Forensic Science Service, and the Telecommunications Directorate, which by the introduction in the 60s of portable pocket radio sets made possible the most significant changes in the pattern of policing on the ground for many years.

The Royal Commission on the Penal System, which had been set up in 1964, was wound up in 1966 without a report, but the Advisory Council on the Penal System was set up as a standing body to replace the old Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders. The Criminal Justice Act 1967, which gave effect to a policy White Paper The Adult Offender, brought in the most fundamental changes since the great Criminal Justice Act of 1948. It introduced the parole system of early release for offenders serving sentences over 3 years, and the Parole Board, the suspended sentence, contributions from those receiving criminal legal aid, and many procedural reforms. The Criminal Law Act abolished the ancient distinctions between felonies and misdemeanours. Two significant Private Members ‘ Bills, which became law with Home Office assistance and followed the liberalising pattern of the Obscene Publications Act, removed many abortions from the ambit of criminal law and caused homosexual acts between consenting adults in private to cease to be criminal offences. Developments in the treatment of offenders were inevitably held back when the Prison Department found itself involved in a heavy programme of tightening up security following on the escape of George Blake and Frank Mitchell in 1966 and the report on prison security by Earl Mountbatten. None the less a major management review, which was to lead to far-reaching changes in the headquarters and regional organisation was set in motion in 1967. The Probation Service was renamed the Probation and After-Care Service in 1966, and expanded considerably with new responsibilities for the after-care of prisoners, for social reports on those before the courts, for supervision of community service orders, and for acting as the courts’ agents in matrimonial cases, in addition to its traditional function of supervising offenders placed on probation.

The second half of the 1960s brought a new form of activity to the Home Office, which had interesting parallels with its nineteenth century role as the protector of women and children exploited at the work place. This was the operation of anti-discrimination law and the development of special aids to communities and areas where numbers of Commonwealth immigrants had settled. The Local Government Act of 1966 contained provisions for special grants to areas with social problems. A Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Mr. Foley) was appointed to the Home Office in 1965 with a staff, originally of two, to undertake duties directed towards the integration of Commonwealth immigrants into the community. The year 1965 also brought the first Race Relations Act and the setting up of the Race Relations Board, (followed in 1968 by the Community Relations Commission). 1968, however, also brought to a logical conclusion the process of run down of resources engaged on civil defence, which ten years earlier had occupied a greater proportion of Home Office senior staff resources than any other responsibility. As part of the economies imposed upon the Government by the major financial crisis of 1967/8 it was announced that civil defence was to be put on a care and maintenance basis.

The year 1967 also brought a change of Home Secretary—Roy Jenkins exchanged offices with James Callaghan, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Callaghan thus became the tenth Home Secretary who was later to become Prime Minister. The next four years, 1968-1972, were overshadowed to some extent by the developing troubles in Northern Ireland, and more and more time, resources, and energy of the Office from the Home Secretary downward were drawn into these intractable problems until the pressure became such that the creation of a new Secretary of State post was accepted as inevitable, with the Northern Ireland Department as a separate Department of State and the most recent of the long list of Home Office godchildren or offspring.

Nonetheless, the multifarious life of the Office continued in all its various aspects and the lesson that crises had to be absorbed and the work go on was repeated, as so many times in history. In 1968 and 1969 fundamental steps were taken in the control of Commonwealth immigrants and aliens. Quota systems were introduced for United Kingdom passport holders from East Africa and an appeal machinery was established independent of the Home Office official machine, with a final application to the High Court. In 1971 the Immigration Act placed the legal background of control upon a permanent basis after fifty years of annual renewal. The death penalty for murder was finally abolished in 1969 after a period of suspension (the last execution for murder had taken place in 1964). The Children and Young Persons Act 1969 made substantial changes in the law with moves towards the de-criminalisation of offences by children under 14, and the social rather than criminological treatment of young offenders. The Home Office was not, however, to preside over the implementation of the Act since, the major part of the Children’s Department was transferred to the Department of Health and Social Security at the beginning of 1971. The Probation Service remained a responsibility of the Home Office and continued to expand its duties independently of the unified Social Service organisation set up under local authorities.

Under the Licensing (Abolition of State Management) Act 1971 the Government ordained the end of the 60-year old ‘experiment’ of the state-managed public houses and hotels in Carlisle and district, and the Home Office ceased to be a brewer and a liquor licensee. On the other hand the Gaming Act of 1968 set up the Gaming Board which joined the Tote Board and the Horse Race Betting Levy Board as a triumvirate of statutory bodies under the Home Office dealing with betting and gaming.


The Conservative Government 1970-74 gave the Home Office two Home Secretaries, Reginald Maudling until his resignation in 1972, and Robert Carr for the remainder of the time. Philip Allen retired as Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the end of 1972, and Arthur Peterson brought back across Westminster Bridge from the office of the Director General of the Greater London Council his gifts of spreading calm in troubled circumstances.

The impetus towards the new slowed down during the 1970s partly under the impact of repeated campaigns for economy of resources and partly as a reflection of changing national attitudes, under which ‘containment’ and ‘keeping going’ replaced the feeling that a solution for every problem was just over the hill if we could only find it. Containment itself proved no easy task; the times became more violent and challenges to authority more constant. Although the Home Office ceased to be responsible for Northern Ireland affairs in 1972, bomb outrages in England by the I.R.A. (and by other terrorist factions) provided a grim focus for much Home Office activity, and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 gave powers of arrest without warrant, detention for up to seven days, and exclusion from the United Kingdom. The whole of the decade was marked for the Home Office by three factors, prominent in the life of society as a whole. First, increasing violence, not only in the course of crime and vandalism but as part of the expression of protest and the assertion of views; second, growing industrial action in quarters where it had not previously been found— as for example in the prison service in the latter part of the decade, the fire service (who had a national strike in 1977), and the civil service generally; third, a growing desire to institutionalise and assist complaint against authority. The traditional tasks of the Home Office were influenced more and more by a struggle for containment against rising numbers of offenders against the criminal law and persons committed to institutional care (the figure of 40,000 which Roy Jenkins described as the maximum the prison service could contain was inexorably exceeded and the numbers advanced to 43,000 and beyond). Increasing numbers of individual cases to be scrutinised were also provided by aliens and Commonwealth immigrants visiting and wishing to settle in this country, though governments of both political parties adhered to the policy of holding steady the numbers of permanent settlers. These tasks were carried out against a background in which there was growing realisation that there were finite limits to the resources which could be committed to the provision of manpower to cope with governmental problems. Even though ‘law and order services’ enjoyed some degree of exemption from the severest restrictions, the impact was felt by the Home Office as a whole. There was also a swing away from standing advisory bodies (the Advisory Council on the Penal System finally fell to the ‘quango’ hunters in 1980), towards a greater use of discussion papers (Green Papers) and ad hoc committees or commissions.

Police forces had a decade of growth in numbers, from 93,000 in 1969 to 113,000 in 1979, and in measures to improve effectiveness. They had, however, added tasks in coping with terrorism, rising crime and pressure on public order. The Police Act 1975, in accordance with the spirit of the age, set up a Police Complaints Board to provide a formal machinery for investigating complaints. Two reports by Lord Justice Edmund Davies dealt with police pay and negotiating machinery; and in 1980 the Report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure introduced a wide range of possibilities of change. The Criminal Justice Act 1972 gave effect to studies on reformation of offenders and custodial and semi-custodial penalties. It took an important step to reduce the numbers of persons in prison by the introduction of Community Service Orders, and day training centres. A disturbing case of a mentally disordered offender who was released and committed murder by poisoning, led to the setting up of a Committee on Mentally Disordered Offenders under the Chairmanship of Lord Butler which reported in 1975.

Attempts to set up a register of dependants of Commonwealth immigrants failed on practical grounds. The consequences of Pakistan leaving the Commonwealth in 1973 and the independence of Bangladesh in 1975 caused substantial increases of work for the Nationality Division. In 1977 an important example of the new breed of Green Papers, on nationality, was published. The final decision of the Government led to the Nationality Act of 1981. Unexpected pressures continued, and had to be coped with as additions to the normal flow of work and development. Ad hoc arrangements had to be made to deal with two special instances of the influx of people from abroad—the Uganda Resettlement Board in 19724, and arrangements on a smaller scale in 1979 for co-ordinating the reception of Vietnamese refugees.

The most important accession of responsibility to the Home Office in the 1970s came with the addition to the Office of the Broadcasting and Radio Regulatory Departments, on the break-up of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in 1974. This took the Home Office into new fields of policy, with an important departmental committee (the Annan Committee on the Future of Broadcasting) followed by legislation in 1980; and also brought difficult problems of allocation of frequencies nationally and internationally, and provision for Citizens Band radio. The new and interesting growth area in the Equal Opportunities and Community Programmes Department led to the Home Office becoming responsible for anti-discrimination legislation, for special assistance to certain sections of the community and for the co-ordination of government relationships with a number of voluntary bodies through the Voluntary Services Unit. The Equal Opportunities Act of 1975 provided for the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and provided protection against discrimination on the grounds of sex; the Race Relations Act of 1976 amalgamated the Race Relations Board and Community Relations Commission in the Commission for Racial Equality. The process of transfer of functions away from the office continued. After Northern Ireland affairs in 1972, responsibilities for explosives and petroleum safety left the Home Office after 98 years for a new home in the Health and Safety Executive, and the Home Office duties on consumer protection, which had developed as an adjunct of the Fire Department, went to the new Department of Consumer Protection in 1975. Two interesting ad hoc activities arising from traditional responsibilities were the prominent part played by Home Office staff, under Philip Allen as Chief Counter in organising the Referendum on joining the European Community (1975), and in the Silver Jubilee of the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1977.


Internally, the Home Office continued to change with the changing pattern of its responsibilities. The staff grew from 27,000 in 1970 to 35,000 today (two-thirds of them in the Prison Department) but the years after 1978/9 saw minimal growth under increasing government pressure on Civil Service numbers. A significant change, however, was the development of corporate management at the top. The number of administrative Deputy Under-Secretaries of State grew to 5: one the Director General of Prisons (dating from 1969), one the Principal Establishment Officer (made a Deputy Under-Secretary of State in 1972), one in charge of the Criminal Departments, one in charge of Police and Fire, and one in charge of Immigration and Nationality, Equal Opportunities and Community Programmes and later Broadcasting. The Chief Scientist post was also upgraded to Deputy Secretary, equalling the Legal Adviser, as a result of recommendation by the Home Office Management Review. This Review (1972/3) was one of a series of examinations of departments by teams made up from the department concerned, the Civil Service Department, and independent management consultants; and for the Home Office it resulted in an increase of senior posts in the Police Department, the split of the Criminal Department into two Assistant Under-Secretary commands, and a re-organisation of the Prison Department. Towards the end of the period (1980) a departmental committee (the May Committee) made recommendations on the organisation of the Prison Department and its relationship with the Home Office which led to increased resources for the Department and a greater degree of independence. It was not, however, all a picture of expansion. The impact of economy showed up in the latter half of the period in senior posts. It became the pattern to redeploy rather than to increase. Three Assistant Under-Secretary posts which had existed in the mid 1970s no longer did so at the end of the period, and four Assistant Secretary posts were dropped. In fact, the need to protect as far as possible operational services, led to sharper restriction on staff engaged in other activities. The argument that recommended changes would involve more staff became increasingly conclusive against expansion of Home Office functions.

Roy Jenkins completed his second term of office in 1976 when he left to become President of the European Commission. He was followed by Merlyn Rees, who moved from the Northern Ireland Office, and he in turn by William Whitelaw after the election of 1979. For once in the history of the Home Office there was a time when the number of Permanent Under-Secretaries matched the number of Home Secretaries. Arthur Peterson retired in 1977 and was followed by Robert Armstrong, who had for a two-year period been preparing as a Deputy UnderSecretary of State in the Home Office, but whose career had been at the Treasury and No. 10 Downing Street. When he left in 1979 to become Secretary of the Cabinet, Brian Cubbon predictably became the head of the Department in which he had begun and spent most of his career, and under his leadership the Office entered the 1980s.

Two hundred years of Home Office history have woven a pattern of changing responsibilities, changing methods, and changing personalities. From the earliest days, however, those who worked in the Home Office have been concerned with key factors in maintaining the fabric of society—the maintenance of the Queen’s Peace and the protection of the law-abiding citizen, the punishment and reformation of wrongdoers, and the intricate balance between freedom of the individual and the maintenance of the controls deemed necessary in a democratic society. We have also maintained the key constitutional position of the channel of communication between the Monarch and subject. We have enjoyed, and still enjoy, partnership with those concerned in related activities of government and administration, central and local, and the changing nature of these relationships provides in itself a social history of our nation and society. We have moved from a situation in which central decisions were the responsibility of a few, challenged only in comparatively rare and striking instances, to a position where it is more and more expected that decisions should be explained and justified through statutory machinery and at the bar of public opinion. At the beginning of the 1980s the Office stands once more in a position in which the full impact of a number of far-ranging reviews remain to be fully worked out—the May Committee on Prisons, the Royal Commissions on Criminal Procedure and on Gambling, the new nationality legislation, the review of public order legislation and the work of the European Commission on Human Rights. Even the long-established control of experiments on animals is subject to re-consideration in the light of a European Convention. A new era is opening up for the use of computers with the setting up of a centre in Bootle in 1981, and the scientific research and technical branches are now filling a development role which parallels that of the specialised inspectorates of the 19th century. At the beginning of the third century of independent existence it would be a bold man who forecast the shape and nature of the Department at the end of that century, but just as Evan Nepean and his 13 men and the necessary woman would not have found all of the pre-occupations of today unfamiliar, so it may safely be prophesied that those who come to write an account of the three hundredth anniversary will recognise some of the problems we wrestle with today, with perhaps a wry smile as a memorial tribute.


Prisons Over Two Centuries

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