Catalogue description Records of departments responsible for labour and employment matters and related bodies

Details of LAB
Reference: LAB
Title: Records of departments responsible for labour and employment matters and related bodies

Records of departments and related bodies with responsibilities for labour and employment matters. The records cover labour and industrial relations, manpower, labour exchanges, statistics, national service, recruitment, demobilisation and resettlement, finance and employment taxes, legislation, international cooperation, conciliation and arbitration tribunals, training, occupational health and safety, minimum wages, co-operative societies, and youth, juvenile and disabled persons training and employment.

Date: 1836-2003
Related material:

For subsequent material see the records of the Department for Education and Employment in


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

Board of Trade, 1786-1970

Department of Employment, 1970-1988

Department of Employment and Productivity, 1968-1970

Employment Department, 1988-1995

Ministry of Labour, 1916-1939

Ministry of Labour, 1959-1968

Ministry of Labour and National Service, 1939-1959

Physical description: 122 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1995 Employment Department

Custodial history: Files were transferred in accordance with successive changes of name, function and responsibility between departments, eventually being transferred to the Public Record Office. Records were transferred from the Ministry of Labour and National Service from 1958 to 1959, the Ministry of Labour from 1959 to 1968, Department of Employment and Productivity from 1968 to 1970, the Department of Employment from 1970 to 1988 and the Department for Education and Employment from 1989 to 1995.
Publication note:

For further information about the records of the Ministry of Labour, see The Ministry of Labour, (Public Record Office, Domestic Records Information Leaflet 102).

Administrative / biographical background:

Ministry of Labour, 1916-1939

The Ministry of Labour was established by the New Ministries and Secretaries Act 1916. It took over Board of Trade responsibilities for conciliation, labour exchanges, labour and industrial relations and employment related statistics.

After the First World War the ministry supervised the demobilisation and resettlement of ex-servicemen, and in the 1920s took over all Board of Education work relating to youth employment. It also acquired powers relating to training and employment of the disabled from the Ministry of Pensions, and the supervision of regulations relating to registration of trade unions.

In the inter-war period, the bulk of the ministry's work concerned industrial relations and unemployment relief. The ministry extended its control over minimum wages through the 1918 Trade Boards Act, helped establish joint industrial councils, and set up the Industrial Court in 1919 to supplement existing arbitration machinery.

It also drew up numerous amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Acts, administered benefits through employment exchanges, created special public works schemes to cater for the unemployed (administered through the Unemployment Grants Committee), and took an active part in the International Labour Organization (from 1919). In 1938 the ministry set up National Service Committees to encourage voluntary national service.

Ministry of Labour and National Service, 1939-1959

In 1939, the ministry took on a wide range of wartime functions and changed its title to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (MLNS). Although many of these functions were confined to the war period, a number endured well beyond it.

Additional national service responsibilities arose from the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939. A National Service Department was created in the MLNS to supervise distribution of manpower between the armed forces, civil defence and industry, and to administer the Schedule of Reserved Occupations.

The MLNS gradually acquired greater controls over all aspects of employment. Assistance was provided by the National Joint Advisory Council (comprising employers' and workers' representatives). At the end of the War, the National Service Department was wound up and its functions passed to the Military Recruitment Department.

In 1941, to co-ordinate the work of the MLNS's various departments and to ensure the effective deployment of labour resources, the MLNS was divided into two sectors, each headed by a Deputy Secretary. One controlled the essentially peacetime work of the MLNS while the other co-ordinated work relating to manpower statistics and intelligence, armed forces recruitment, civilian war work, general training and labour supply problems.

In April 1945 powers relating to unemployment insurance and the unemployment assistance scheme were transferred to the Ministry of National Insurance. The MLNS retained control of employment exchanges. In June 1945, general responsibility for distribution of industry and policy in allocated Development Areas passed to the Board of Trade, but the MLNS remained concerned in the supply, distribution and efficient use of manpower.

The MLNS was involved in recruitment, training and employment of foreign workers; resettlement of ex-regular members of the Forces; industrial rehabilitation, training and employment of the disabled; supply of qualified technical and scientific workers; recruitment and distribution of nurses and midwives, and running of an expanded youth employment service.

Advisory committees and councils were created to examine official provision for employment of the disabled, juveniles and older workers. The Nursing Appointments Service was set up in 1943, and a Technical and Scientific Register was drawn up at the end of the War. In 1950, an inter-departmental advisory council was created to secure better integration of service and civilian life.

Ministry of Labour, 1959-1968

In October 1959, compulsory military service was formally abolished and the ministry's title reverted to its pre-war form. The ministry rationalised some of its responsibilities in the areas of Wages Councils and management of industrial estates. In 1961 the Professional and Executive Register and the Technical and Scientific Registers were discontinued and services to disabled persons and training facilities for the unemployed reduced. However, subsequent legislation broadened the ministry's responsibilities.

Under the Industrial Training Act 1964, the minister was empowered to create industrial training boards for specific industries. Following legislation in 1965 and 1966, the minister became responsible for management of the Redundancy Fund (set up to provide a financial basis for redundancy compensatory payments) and was empowered to declare specific industrial establishments exempt from selective employment tax.

The ministry also continued to control employment of foreigners under the Aliens Order 1953 and the Commonwealth Immigrants Acts 1962 and 1968.

History and Functions, post-1968

In April 1968 the Department of Employment and Productivity (DEP) was created to take over the Ministry of Labour's functions and the incomes policy responsibilities of the Department of Economic Affairs. It was also given charge of the National Board for Prices and Incomes.

Its functions thus included administration of labour exchanges, government training centres, industrial rehabilitation units, and the Youth Employment Service. It also had responsibilities for occupational health and safety, minimum wages, conciliation and arbitration services, statistics, liaison with international labour organizations, and funding and administering the Agricultural, Horticultural and Forestry Industry Training Board (until 1975).

In October 1969 the DEP acquired from the Board of Trade responsibility for productivity services and monopolies, mergers and restrictive trade practices policy, but in October 1970 this work was transferred to the new Department of Trade and Industry. The DEP was then renamed the Department of Employment.

Following legislation in 1974 and 1975, certain departmental administrative functions were transferred to a number of independent bodies responsible to the Secretary of State for Employment. These included the Manpower Services Commission, the Health and Safety Commission, and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Council.

In 1988, following the abolition of the Manpower Services Commission, the Training Agency and Employment Service were set up as executive agencies reporting to the Secretary of State for Employment. The department's title was altered to Employment Department, which was then abolished in July 1995 and its functions dispersed:

  • Department for Education (re-titled the Department for Education and Employment) acquired the Employment Service, training functions, and discrimination and equal opportunities.
  • Department of Trade and Industry inherited industrial relations functions and became responsible for the work of ACAS and the Certification Office for Trade Unions and Employers' Associations.
  • Department of the Environment inherited the policy divisions that dealt with health and safety matters. Also, ministerial responsibility for the Health and Safety Commission was transferred to the Secretary of State for the Environment.
  • Central Statistical Office took over responsibility for statistics and employment figures.

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