November 13, 2006 at 1:45 pm | Posted in Economics, Financial, Globalization, History | Leave a comment







UK: Board of Trade

The Board of Trade 1621-1970

‘The Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations’

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

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

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

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.

The Department of Trade and Industry (1970-74)

As well as unifying the trade and industrial policy functions of the Board of Trade
with the Ministry of Technology, the new Department also took over responsibility for
government policy towards monopolies and mergers from the Department of Employment. The
central aim of the new Department was to help British industry and commerce achieve even
greater international competitiveness. One of the new Department’s main objectives was to
help British firms prepare for the competition arising from Britain’s entry into the
European Economic Community.

1971 The Ministry of Aviation Supply was disbanded. Responsibilities for the aerospace
industry, including the European space programmes, and civil aviation policy were
transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry.

1972 The British Export Board was created on the 1st January to direct the export
promotion activities of the Department integrating its export promotion work with the
British National Export Council. This new organisation consisted of businessmen and
representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office. The British Export Board was renamed the British Overseas Trade Board on 1st

1974 The Department of Energy was established on 8 January to discharge the functions
and responsibilities of the government in relation to energy resources, thus creating a
new Department from the energy divisions within the Department of Trade and Industry.
After the general election the Department of Trade and Industry was split on 5th March to
form three new Departments: Department of Trade; Department of Industry and the Department
of Prices and Consumer Protection.

The Board of Trade is a
committee of the Privy Council of the
United Kingdom
, originating as a committee of inquiry in the 17th century and evolving gradually into a government
department with a diverse range of functions. This department has been known as the Department of Trade and Industry since 1970, headed by a Secretary of State for Trade and
, who is also President of the
Board of Trade
. The full Board has met only once since the mid-19th century, during commemorations of the bicentenary of
the Board in 1986.

In 1621, King James I
directed the Privy Council to establish a temporary
committee to investigate the causes of a decline in trade and consequent financial
difficulties. The Board’s formal title remains
Lords of the Committee of Privy Council appointed for the consideration of all matters
relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations.

In 1696, King William
appointed eight paid commissioners to promote trade in the American plantations
and elsewhere. The board carried on this work but also had long periods of inactivity,
devolving into chaos after 1761 and abolished in 1782 by the Rockingham Whigs.

William Pitt recreated the committee in 1784, and an Order-in-Council
of August 23, 1786 provided the
formal basis that still remains in force. A secretariat was established which included the
president, vice president and board members. After 1820 the board
ceased to meet regularly and the business was carried out entirely by the secretariat.

In the 19th century the board had an advisory function
on economic activity in the UK and its empire. During the second half of the 19th century
it also dealt with legislation for patents, designs and trade marks, company regulation,
labor and factories, merchant shipping, agriculture, transport, power etc. Colonial
matters passed to the Colonial Office and other
functions were devolved to newly created departments, a process that continued for much of
the 20th century.


The Lords Commissioners of Trade and Foreign
Plantations, appointed in 1696 and commonly known as the Board of Trade, did not
constitute a committee of the Privy Council, but were, in fact, members of a separate
body. Although established by the King, the Board was abolished by an act of Parliament in
1782. The original commission appointed the seven (later eight) of the Great Officers of
State, who were not required to attend meetings, and the eight paid members, who were
required to attend. The Board, so constituted, had little real power, and matters related
to trade and the colonies were usually within the jurisdiction of the Secretaries of State
and the Privy Council, with the Board confining itself mainly to colonial administration.

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