Welsh Departments before 1965
For most of the nineteenth century England and Wales were treated as a single unit for administrative purposes. The pattern had been set by the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 which had enacted that references in acts of Parliament to England were to include Wales and Berwick. Formally, this remained the position until the Welsh Language Act 1967, which provided that such references to England were no longer to apply to Wales in any act passed after 27 July 1967.
The first purely Welsh agency, the Central Welsh Board, had been established in 1896 to inspect the grammar schools set up under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889. A separate Welsh Department of the Board of Education was established in 1907 and in 1908 a Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire was also established.
A Welsh National Health Insurance Commission was set up under the National Insurance Act 1911 and in 1919 the powers of this commission passed to the Welsh Board of Health created under the Ministry of Health Act 1919. The same act also provided for the establishment of a Welsh Consultative Council to advise and assist the Minister of Health but it proved short-lived.
In the sphere of agriculture the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had its own Welsh Office from 1919, re-named the Welsh Department in 1922. This department developed from the work of the Agricultural Council for Wales which had been set up in 1912. In 1936 a Welsh Land Settlement Society was formed to assist the unemployed; its land and other interests were later transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. In 1944 a Boundary Commission for Wales was established under the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1944.
A Welsh Office of the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, later Ministry of Housing and Local Government, was established in 1951. By that time many other departments, notably the Ministry of Transport and the Forestry Commission had developed systems of regional offices and organisations which included Welsh units, most of them in Cardiff.
Until 1951 there was no Welsh equivalent of the Secretary of State for Scotland, nor of the Scottish Office. In October of that year, following a long standing campaign to secure a minister specifically responsible for Wales, the Office of Minister for Welsh Affairs was established. Initially this post was held by the Home Secretary but in January 1957 ministerial responsibility for Welsh affairs was transferred to the Minister of Housing and Local Government with the assistance, from December 1957, of a Minister of State outside the Cabinet.
In October 1964 the office of Secretary of State for Wales was created and since 1965, when the Welsh Office was established, he has acquired functions transferred from or shared with other ministers as well as having oversight of the policies of some other departments as applied to Wales.
In April 1965 the Welsh Office was formally constituted, under the Secretary of State for Wales, taking over most functions in Wales relating to housing, local government, civil defence, sewerage, town and country planning, and new towns formerly exercised by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The Office also took over responsibility from the Ministry of Transport for the construction, maintenance and management of highways and bridges and for some functions relating to road use in Wales.
It was given joint responsibility with the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources for certain functions relating to water and forestry in Wales, taking these over entirely, together with others relating to commons and allotments, when that ministry was dissolved in February 1967. In addition to exercising a general oversight of the execution of government policy in Wales, including the machinery of economic planning, certain responsibilities were also vested in the secretary of state in respect of Welsh national parks, historic buildings and cultural activities in Wales; on the formation of the Countryside Commission in 1968 he also became responsible for its work in Wales.
Responsibility for matters relating to land tenure was passed to the Welsh Office from the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources in 1967.
In the same year the secretary of state became responsible for tourism in Wales under the Development of Tourism Act 1969 and for the appointment of the Welsh Tourist Board; he also became responsible for approving regulations made by the Registrar General for the use of the Welsh language in the registration of births, marriages and deaths and schemes made by the Welsh local authorities for the local organisation of the registration service.
In July 1977 responsibility for the activities of the Manpower Services Commission, the Employment Service Agency, the Training Services Agency and the Careers Service in Wales were transferred to the Welsh Office from the Department of Employment. There was also, for a time, a General Division which dealt with a wide range of Welsh matters including the Council for Monmouth and Wales.
Most of the staff of the Welsh Office, which was organised mainly on a divisional basis related to function, were based in Cardiff, but there was a London Office which liaised with all Whitehall departments and provided secretariat and support services for ministers and the permanent secretary.
In July 1997, the government published its White Paper A Voice for Wales, which outlined its proposals for devolution in Wales. These proposals were endorsed in the referendum held in September 1997. The Government of Wales Act 1998 established the National Assembly for Wales and the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999, enabled the transfer of the devolved powers and responsibilities from the Secretary of State for Wales to the Assembly.
The Secretary of State for Wales post Devolution
Following devolution the role of the secretary of State for Wales changed. As a Cabinet minister, he is responsible for ensuring that the interests and needs of Wales are fully considered; for making devolution work smoothly and for taking through Parliament provisions in primary legislation which relate particularly to Wales. In addition, he has the power to transfer the Welsh budget from the Treasury to the Assembly, consult and debate the government's legislative programme with the Assembly and to participate but not vote in plenary sessions of the Assembly.
The Wales Office was established in 1999 when most of the powers of the Welsh Office were handed over to the National Assembly for Wales. It is the department of the Secretary of State for Wales, who is the key government figure liaising with the devolved government in Wales and who represents Welsh interests in the Cabinet and Parliament