In 1696 William III appointed a new committee of the Privy Council by the name of 'the Lords Commissioners for promoting the Trade of our Kingdom, and for inspecting and improving our Plantations in America and elsewhere'. Originally the main concern of these 'lords of trade' was the American Colonies, but from 1749, African trade began to occupy more of their time. In 1768 a new secretaryship of state for the Colonies was created, held jointly with the presidency of the Board of Trade. This led to a diminution of the board's status and it became an adjunct to the new Secretary's Department. After the loss of the American colonies, the board and the new secretaryship were ended by an Act of 1782.
The New Board
The need to regulate trade between Great Britain, the remaining British colonies and the independent United States of America, and between Britain and France after the Peace of Versailles in 1783 led William Pitt to establish a new Committee of Council on Trade and Plantations (later known as 'the First Committee') by an order in Council of 5 March 1784. To strengthen this committee he reconstructed it by a second order, of 23 August 1786, under which it operated for the rest of its existence.
The committee has been known as the Board of Trade since 1786, but this title was only adopted officially by an Act of 1861. Its first functions were consultative, like those of William III's board, and its concern with plantations, in matters such as the approval of colonial laws, was originally a reality. As the industrial revolution progressed, however, the board's work became increasingly executive and domestic and from the 1840's a succession of acts of parliament gave it regulatory duties, notably concerning railways, merchant shipping, and joint stock companies.
To deal with these new functions specialised branches were developed, while the remaining business was transacted until 1863 by a Commercial (also called General) Department. Besides its wider consultative business, this department dealt with art unions, charters, colonial and commercial questions, copyright, corn returns, quarantine, licences to limited companies to hold land, merchant shipping and seamen, navigation laws, schools of design and tariffs. From an early stage, the board's business was transacted at nominal meetings attended only by the President and the Vice President and their secretaries, which occurred twice a week. After 1845 even these nominal meetings ceased.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the board acquired many new responsibilities (several of which were later transferred to other government departments) and underwent periodic reorganisations, notably in 1919 after the end of the First World War. Responsibility for fisheries was transferred to the Board of Agriculture in 1903, labour functions to the Ministry of Labour in 1917, railways to the Ministry of Transport in 1919, merchant shipping to the Ministry of Shipping in 1939 and fuel and power to the Ministry of Fuel and Power in 1942.
The board's duties nevertheless remained numerous, especially during the First and Second World Wars and by the 1960's included a general responsibility for commerce, industry and overseas trade and in particular commercial relations with other countries; imports and exports; tariffs; industrial development; consumer protection; tourism; and statistics of trade and industry at home and abroad, including censuses of production and distribution.
The board was responsible for government relations with all industries not specifically the concern of other departments. It also had supervisory or regulatory duties concerning patents, designs and trademarks and copyright; weights and measures; merchandise marks; companies; bankruptcy; insurance; the distribution of industry; films; and enemy property.
The board's functions altered even more frequently during the administrative reorganisations of the 1960s. It regained its merchant shipping responsibilities from the Ministry of Transport in 1965 and acquired civil aviation duties from the Ministry of Aviation in 1966. It lost its responsibility for the distribution of industry and the sponsorship of individual industries to the Ministry of Technology in 1969 and for certain productivity services and for control over monopolies, mergers, and restrictive practices to the Department of Employment and Productivity in the same year. Finally, in October 1970 the board was merged with the Ministry of Technology to form the Department of Trade and Industry.