Catalogue description Records created or inherited by the Medical Research Council

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Reference: FD
Title: Records created or inherited by the Medical Research Council

Records of the Medical Research Committee and Medical Research Council touching all aspects of medical research carried out in the UK.

These include general and administrative records, those of research units of the Medical Research Council and those of the research boards of the Medical Research Committee and the Medical Research Council.

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

Note: The Medical Research Council became a Public Record Body in 2009.
Date: 1901-2020
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Medical Research Committee, 1914-1920

Medical Research Council, 1920-

Royal Commission into the Relations of Human and Animal Tuberculosis, 1901-1911

Physical description: 38 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1993 Medical Research Council

Publication note:

A full account of the establishment, evolution and activities of the Committee and the Medical Research Council and is given in A. Landsborough Thomson, Half a Century of Medical Research (London, 1973-1975), 2 vols

Administrative / biographical background:

Medical Research Committee

The origins of the Medical Research Committee (MRC) are to be found in the work of the Royal Commission into the Relations of Human and Animal Tuberculosis (TB), 1901-1911, which recommended to the Local Government Board in 1908 the creation of a permanent medical research body, and whose findings led to the inclusion in the 1911 National Insurance Act of provision for Sanatorium Benefit. The Act established schemes for health and unemployment insurance based on contributions from employees, employers and the State. This - a penny to be raised from every person insured under the act - was given over to the four newly-appointed National Health Insurance (NHI) Commissions of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, which had the option of using the sum raised for research purposes.

Shortly thereafter, a Treasury Committee on TB and the NHI Commissioners proposed that the Sanatorium Benefit be devoted in its entirety to research conducted on a UK-wide basis, relevant to all aspects of medicine not just to TB alone. A medical research organization using the funds raised through the TB penny was favoured. On 20 August 1913, by its Provisional Regulations, the NHI Joint Committee set up a Medical Research Committee and an Advisory Council for Research. It invited nine persons, mostly scientific experts, to make up the former and forty-two individuals representing universities, government departments and other bodies to make up the latter. The Medical Research Committee was to formulate schemes of research and lay them, along with estimates of expenditure involved, before the chairman of the Joint Committee. The Advisory Council was to examine the proposals and make its opinion of them known to the chairman of the Joint Committee before the latter gave his approval. A treasurer was to be appointed by the Medical Research Committee from among its own members, to receive monies directed to the Committee by the Joint Committee from what had now become known as the Medical Research Fund.

The Provisional Regulations were confirmed on 21 March 1914 by the National Health Insurance (Medical Research Fund) Regulations, which extended to the functions of the body to include the holding of property by the Medical Research Committee.

The Medical Research Committee operated directly under the auspices of the National Health Insurance Joint Committee, and was responsible to the Treasury. In 1919, the Ministry of Health Act replaced the Local Government Board and the four National Health Insurance Commissions with a Ministry of Health in England and Wales. The powers of the NHI Commissioners passed to the minister of health, who became thereby the minister responsible for the Medical Research Committee.

In March 1920, a Committee of the Privy Council for Medical Research was established and shortly thereafter, the Medical Research Committee was reconstituted as the Medical Research Council working under its aegis.

Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council, established as a corporate body by royal charter, succeeded the Medical Research Committee on 1 April 1920. Its function is to promote the balanced development of medical and related biological research in the United Kingdom, to which end it receives public funding. It both instigates its own research and responds to matters of medical concern laid before it by government departments, doing so through sub-committees and units specialising in given areas of interest. It also provides funding for research by outside bodies or individuals, complementing the the research resources of universities and hospitals. Membership of the Council, originally 10 in 1920, increased to 11 in 1926 and to 12 in 1943.

The Medical Research Council was responsible to the Lord President of the Council, who was also the chairman of the Privy Council Medical Research Committee. Other Committee members included the Minister of Health, the Secretary for Scotland and, until 1922, the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The secretaries of state for the Home Department, for dominion affairs and for the colonies were added in 1926 and the Minister of Labour and National Service (later Minister of Labour) was added in 1955. The Committee's role was to appoint the MRC's members, submit the MRC's estimates to the Treasury for approval and report annually to Parliament on the MRC's activities. The secretary to the MRC was ex officio the secretary to the Privy Council Committee and came, therefore, to be the chief point of contact between the two bodies.

In 1959, the chairmanship of the Privy Council Committee was given over to the Minister of Science, remaining with him until 1964. In 1965, the Science and Technology Act transferred the powers of the Privy Council Committee to the Secretary of State for Education and Science with effect from 23 March 1965. In 1992, responsibility for the Medical Research Council passed to the newly formed Office of Public Service and Science, a department of the Cabinet Office headed by the Minister of Public Service and Science.

Much of the Medical Research Council's work has been conducted in two major research establishments, each made up of a number of divisions covering different areas of research: the National Institute for Medical Research, originally established by the Medical Research Committee in 1914; and the Clinical Research Centre, established in 1967. The latter closed in 1994.

The Council conducts research for, or on behalf of, governmental bodies, particularly the Health Departments and the armed services. Since 1924 the Council and the Health Departments have regularly concluded concordats designed to co-ordinate their research programmes.The Medical Research Council has also undertaken work on the Health Departments' behalf. Between 1939 and 1961 the Council administered the Public Health Laboratory Service for England and Wales on behalf of the Ministry of Health. From 1953 the Ministry and the Council were jointly responsible for the maintenance of the Radiological Protection Service, which was subsumed in 1971 into the newly-created National Radiological Protection Board. The Medical Research Council has also collaborated extensively with departments interested in industrial health - notably the Mines Department, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Ministry of Labour and with other research councils and international organisations.

The Public Records (Designation of Bodies) Order 2009 made the Medical Research Council a Public Record Body.

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