The Dominions Office, 1925 to 1947
In 1925 the Dominions Division of the Colonial Office was responsible for the Imperial Conference and business arising from it, and for the United Kingdom's relations with Canada, Newfoundland, the Commonwealth of Australia and also the constituent states of the Commonwealth, the Union of South Africa and the territories it was responsible for (the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland and Swaziland, and the mandated territory of South West Africa), New Zealand, the Irish Free State, Southern Rhodesia, and various Western Pacific territories including the former German Pacific territory of Nauru which was mandated to the United Kingdom, and administered by the Commonwealth of Australia.
The decision was taken to establish this division from July 1925 as a separate Dominions Office under a secretary of state. Responsibility for all the Pacific island territories, except for Nauru, was separated out of the Division and retained by the Colonial Office. The geographical areas dealt with by the Dominions Office did not change between 1925 and 1947.
In addition to its responsibilities for conducting diplomatic relations with the Irish Free State, the Dominions Office inherited a number of staff temporarily retained in order to liquidate certain Irish business following partition, which had originated in the former Irish Office, the responsibilities of which had been split between the Home Office and the Colonial Office in April 1924.
The Office was responsible for the Empire Marketing Board, established in 1926 to promote sales of Empire goods, until its dissolution in 1933.
Establishment and other common services for the Dominions Office were, until the very last months of the Dominions Office's existence, shared with the Colonial Office, as the staff of the two offices below assistant under secretary level was largely interchangeable.
The Commonwealth Relations Office 1947 to 1966
In July 1947 the title of the Dominions Office was changed to Commonwealth Relations Office, and the secretary of state for dominion affairs became secretary of state for commonwealth relations. The following month responsibility for relations with India and Pakistan, then becoming independent, was transferred to the Commonwealth Relations Office from the India Office, which was abolished. The staff of the India Office were transferred to the new department, as were the staff of the Burma Office when it too was abolished the following year. The office contained a number of subject and geographical departments arranged in several divisions, each under the supervision of an under secretary.
The Commonwealth Relations Office subsequently took over responsibility from the Colonial Office for relations with former colonial territories as they became independent members of the Commonwealth, mainly in the years between 1957 and 1964.
On the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953 the Commonwealth Relations Office became responsible for relations with the federal government as well as continuing to deal with the government of Southern Rhodesia. The governments of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland remained the concern of the Colonial Office.
In March 1962 relations with the federation and the individual territories passed to a new Central African Office. This was under the control of the home secretary until October 1963 and then under the newly designated secretary of state for commonwealth relations and for the colonies, thus combining two offices which had already been held by the same man since July 1962. The federation was dissolved at the end of 1963 and in April 1964 the Central African Office was absorbed by the Commonwealth Relations Office.
In October 1964 two separate secretaries of state for the colonies and for commonwealth relations were again appointed. When the Union of South Africa became a republic in May 1961 relations with it continued to be conducted by the Commonwealth Relations Office until the following November, when responsibility passed to the Foreign Office. At the same time responsibility for Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland was transferred to the Colonial Office.
From May to October 1951 the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations had special responsibility for the general oversight of government information services. In July 1961 work relating to overseas aid was transferred to the new Department of Technical Co-operation.
In January 1965 a common Diplomatic Service and Diplomatic Service Administration Office was established jointly with the Foreign Office. This Office performed common administrative services for the whole Diplomatic Service, so the Commonwealth Relations Office departments dealing with these matters were abolished. In August 1966 the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office merged to form a single Commonwealth Office under a Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.
Originally, the Commonwealth Relations Office retained the internal structure of the Dominions Office. After the absorption of the India Office it was divided into Divisions A and B. In 1949 the Office was divided into five functional divisions between which were divided the sixteen departments. This reorganisation eliminated the duplication which had been much in evidence between the old divisions A and B, and the basic structure of departments within divisions remained until 1966.
However, from 1957 the size of the Commonwealth began to grow rapidly, and as colonies gained independence and joined the Commonwealth, there was increasingly a need to create more divisions and departments, and to change their arrangements. By 1958 there were six divisions and twenty-three departments, and by 1966 the numbers had risen to eight divisions and twenty-four departments.
Over time, the focus within the Office shifted away from functional departments able to consider broad areas of policy as they affected the whole of the Commonwealth to geographical departments dealing with many areas of policy affecting a given territory or region. There was no stated policy to this end, but at successive reorganisations this was considered to be the best way to accommodate the increasing number of Commonwealth member states into the Office's structure.
The Commonwealth Office 1966 to 1968
The merger of the Colonial and Commonwealth Relations Offices and the creation of a single Diplomatic Service were parts of a scheme to unite the responsibility for all external affairs within one department. The scheme was completed in October 1968 by the merger of the Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Office in a single Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Colonial Office became the Dependent Territories Division of the Commonwealth Office, and the departmental structures of both predecessor organisations remained essentially unchanged until the formation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.