The Ministry of Supply was established by Statute in 1939 and among other functions it was charged with providing raw materials for the three armed services and with meeting all the equipment needs of the Army. Accordingly, just before the outbreak of war, the system of raw material Controls, which had been evolved jointly by the Committee of Imperial Defence and its Principal Supply Officers Committee assisted by the Board of Trade, was set up within the framework of the new Ministry.
The Iron and Steel Control was established in the Ministry of Supply in 1939, to regulate the supply and distribution of iron and steel. The staff were engaged on loan from the industry through firms in the British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF) and from the British Iron and Steel Corporation, a body closely allied to the Federation.
The Control was made responsible for the supply and distribution of iron and steel, the supervision of imports and exports, and the co-ordination of all efforts to raise the rate of production to war tempo.
The Control, which had been exercised under the Defence Regulations, was confirmed by the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act 1945, but was superseded by the establishment of the Iron and Steel Board in 1946 to review and supervise schemes of modernisation and development. At the same time an Iron and Steel Division was set up in the Ministry of Supply to consider the nationalisation programme.
Through the Iron and Steel Board, government powers were exercised in the control of the prices of raw material, of the finished product and of steel imports, and the regulation of investment, pooling arrangements, new plant and equipment. Members of the Board were appointed by the Minister of Supply and represented the employers, workers and consumers in the iron and steel industry. It was staffed by civil servants in the Ministry of Supply. Full nationalisation of the industry as opposed to government control had already been pledged by the Labour Government in the same year, however, and this controversial issue was opposed by the steel firms. The Iron and Steel Board, intended as an interim measure, had little co-operation from the BISF. When in the spring of 1949 the members of the Board, except the trade unionists, refused a further term of office, the staff carried on without the directors. Statutory authority for nationalisation did not come until, after considerable delay, the Iron and Steel Act 1949 was passed.
Following the Iron and Steel Act 1949 which nationalised the iron and steel industry, the Iron and Steel Board was abolished in 1949, with its staff becoming the Iron and Steel Division of the Ministry of Supply and the existing Iron and Steel Division renamed the Iron and Steel (General) Division. Following the establishment of the Iron and Steel Corporation in 1950, the two Iron and Steel Divisions merged into one. In 1953, the industry was then denationalised by the Conservative Government following the Iron and Steel Act 1953. In July 1955 the Ministry of Supply's responsibility for iron and steel was transferred to the Board of Trade. This 1953 Act also saw the reconstitution of the Iron and Steel Board, (which then continued until 1967) and this was supervised by the Iron and Steel Division.
In 1957 functions relating to iron and steel were transferred from the Board of Trade to the newly formed Ministry of Power. The new Division was headed by an under-secretary, who was also responsible for related matters concerned with the Free Trade Area for Europe. It administered the Iron and Steel Act 1953, and its work included questions of supply and demand, development, raw materials, prices, relations with the European Coal and Steel Community and other international organisations. The re-nationalisation of the industry by the Iron and Steel Act 1967 revised certain provisions of the 1949 Act for which the Division was responsible, and in 1967 the Minister of Power's Iron and Steel Advisory Committee was set up.
In 1969 the Division was transferred to the Ministry of Technology, which in the following year became part of the Department of Trade and Industry. The Department of Industry inherited responsibility for the industry on its foundation in 1974.