Catalogue description Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and predecessors

Details of FCO
Reference: FCO
Title: Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and predecessors

Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1968 dealing with all the UK's external affairs including corresponding with foreign states, negotiating with representatives of foreign states, representing UK interests overseas and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's responsibilities for the conduct of the British Government's foreign policy and for presenting that policy to the Cabinet and Parliament. Also includes some records of predecessor bodies, the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Commonwealth Office.

Comprises records of political geographical departments, economic geographical departments, central policy departments, defence departments, cultural, development and scientific relations departments, general economic departments, transport and communications departments, international organisations departments, the Consular Department, protocol, nationality, treaty and claims departments, information departments and commissions. Also contains dependent territory government gazettes.

For series created for regularly archived websites, please see the separate Websites Division.

Date: 1878-2022

Prior to the formation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in October 1968, the two predecessor offices operated a common registry system from January 1967, and the first cycle of records in these series covers this period. On the formation of the FCO some of the existing departmental registry systems continued unaltered, and their series continue beyond October 1968. For other departments, the registry codes are amended, but the series continue, while other departments were merged or absorbed, and their series stop in October 1968.

Related material:

Earlier records of relations with Commonwealth countries are amongst the records of the Dominions Office:


Separated material:

Some Colonial Office records are in CO

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Commonwealth Office, 1966-1968

Diplomatic Service Administration Office, 1966-1968

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1968-

Foreign Office, 1782-1968

Physical description: 225 series
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1985 Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Custodial history: From January 1967 the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office operated a joint registry system. Some of the records of these offices were therefore transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on its creation in 1968.
Administrative / biographical background:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office came into existence on 17 October 1968 by the amalgamation of the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Office and the Diplomatic Service Administration Office. Plans for its creation, however, had begun as early as 1962, when a Committee on Representational Services Overseas chaired by Lord Plowden was appointed to review the purpose, structure and operation of the UK's overseas services.

Plowden's report of February 1964 (Cmnd 2276), which was generally accepted by the government, concluded that the division of responsibility for representational functions between foreign and Commonwealth countries, and in the Commonwealth between commercial and other work, had great practical disadvantages. The unified HM Diplomatic Service was therefore created on 1 January 1965.

The government also decided that the Colonial Office (not part of the Plowden Committee's remit) and the Commonwealth Relations Office should be merged, and the resultant Commonwealth Office was formed in August 1966. This was the first step towards the creation of a single ministry to handle all the UK's external affairs, identified as an ultimate aim by Plowden, but not a specific recommendation.

From January 1967 the Commonwealth and Foreign Offices operated a common file registry system, under the oversight of the Diplomatic Service Administration Office. Additionally, there were a number of joint Foreign Office/Commonwealth (Relations) Office departments where staff from both offices provided common services to each. These included joint departments dealing with information research, administration, policy and guidance, overseas police and labour advisers' departments, a joint consular department, and joint departments for nationality and treaty matters, protocol matters, conferences and research.

Responsibility for the Commonwealth Institute was among the functions inherited from the Commonwealth Office. In November 1970 the office absorbed the Ministry of Overseas Development. The Ministry of Overseas Development became the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), a body answerable to the FCO. The former Minister of Overseas Development became a junior minister of the FCO with the title Minister for Overseas Development.

The ODA remained a distinct element within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its organisation was largely unaltered. In June 1974 it became a separate department once more with its own minister, but in June 1975 the latter again became Minister for Overseas Development exercising delegated power formally vested in the Foreign Secretary as Minister of Overseas Development. The two departments remained distinct, however.

In 1982, responsibility for the Government Hospitality Fund, which provided hospitality for foreign heads of state and ministers visiting the United Kingdom, was transferred from the personal responsibility of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to that of one of the junior ministers of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.

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