The introduction of a system of awards to recognise outstanding export achievement was mooted in 1964. A scheme was worked out under the guidance of a committee which included representatives of industry and was chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh. Its report, published in August 1965, suggested that recommendations for such an award should be made to the Queen by the Prime Minister, assisted by an advisory committee to include representatives of industry and commerce, trade unions and engineering institutions. Industrial units and other bodies (but not individuals) would be eligible to apply for the awards. Successful applicants would be presented with a symbolic emblem, which they were also entitled to display on their products, stationery and other articles for a period of five years
This committee would in turn be served by two subordinate committees, under the aegis of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology, to advise on the export and the technological aspects of the applications, respectively (Queen's Award for Export Achievement and Queen's Award for Technological Achievement). These suggestions were adopted, with the addition of a steering committee to review both types of application before their submission to the sub-committees, and the first awards were made in 1966, on the Queen's birthday (21 April). Awards in subsequent years were announced on the same date.
In July 1965 it had been planned to establish a self-contained unit styled the 'Office of the Queen's Award to Industry', located at the Board of Trade although not, at least for the purposes of public presentation, part of it. The Ministry of Technology was to contribute staff. In practice, the work of the office was initially done by the Board of Trade's Division 2 of the General Department, with assistance from a member of staff of the Ministry of Technology.
Separate sections subsequently developed within the two government departments. That within the Board of Trade is first identified by the departmental functional directory as the office of the Queen's Award to Industry in April 1967. It was then part of Division 2 of the General Department. From January 1968 it is shown as part of the Export Policy and Promotion Division, and from January 1970 as within the Export Planning and Development Division.
The office's position was anomalous. For example, it had no staff of its own and it had no vote, hence no financial independence, yet it was publicly presented as an independent entity. It ran the award scheme under the direct supervision of the Head of the Home Civil Service, as chairman of the committee which advised the Prime Minister on applications. Yet in processing applications both it and its Ministry of Technology counterpart worked to their respective Permanent Secretaries, who chaired the sub-committees which reported to the main advisory committee.
The Duke of Edinburgh's committee had recommended that the award scheme should be reviewed after five years. In December 1969 a committee, chaired by Lord McFadzean was appointed to conduct this review. It reported in May 1970, recommending the continuation of the scheme and a further review not later than 1975. Another review of the scheme was chaired by the Duke of Edingurgh in 1975.
In April 1970, a joint organisational review by the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology recommended the combining of 'the two QA Offices' and the disbanding of the Technological Sub Committee. But these proposals appear to have been overtaken by the report of the McFadzean committee and by the merger, in October 1970, of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology to form the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Within the DTI, the office remained the responsibility of the Export Planning and Development Division until it passed to the Overseas Finance and Planning Division early in 1973. In March 1974, this division, along with all trade functions of the DTI, was transferred to the new Department of Trade. Nevertheless the division was still responsible for the QAI until early 1975 when responsibility was passed to the Export Development Division. From late 1975 the title Office of the Queen's Award to Industry had been replaced by the Queen's Award Office (QAO).