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Welsh Office

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TitleWelsh Office

A Welsh Office responsible to the Secretary of State for Wales was established in April 1965. Two years later, the Welsh Language Act 1967 formally dissolved the long-standing legislation that had provided that references made in Parliament to England automatically included Wales, under the Wales and Berwick Act of 1746.1

A series of bodies and departments dealing specifically with Welsh issues pre-dated the Welsh Office. The first of these was the Central Welsh Board, which was set up in 1896 under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889 to inspect grammar school standards. Responsibility for Welsh education was further separated out, with the formation of the Welsh Department of the Board of Education in 1907. In the following year a distinct cultural body for Wales was established, in the form of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire. A Welsh National Health Insurance Commission was set up under the National Insurance Act 1911. Its responsibilities were later absorbed by the Welsh Board of Health, which was formed under the Ministry of Health Act 1919. The work of the Agricultural Council for Wales (established in 1912) was assigned to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1919, and was renamed the Welsh Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1922. A Welsh Land Settlement Society was established in 1936 to help to alleviate unemployment; many of its land-related functions were later transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. A Boundary Commission for Wales was set up under the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1944.

The need for better liaison concerning Wales, and the need to improve the general execution of policies involving Wales, prompted the formation of a Conference of Heads of Government Offices in Wales in 1946. A Council for Wales and Monmouthshire was established in 1949 to monitor the effects of government policy in Wales. This became the Welsh Council in 1968 when its remit was widened to include social and cultural affairs, as well as economic planning.

Government departments which had established Welsh offices or units by 1951 included the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Transport, and the Forestry Commission. In 1951 the office of Minister for Welsh Affairs was created. This post was vested in the Home Secretary until 1957, when it was transferred to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who was to be assisted by a Minister of State. It was replaced in October 1964 by the office of Secretary of State for Wales, which was given responsibility for the newly created Welsh Office in the following year. The Welsh Office was created to execute government policy in Wales. It took over, from other departments, functions relating to economic planning, housing, local government, sewerage, environmental health, town and country planning, Welsh national parks, historic buildings, and cultural activities. The duties of the Office expanded quickly to include bridge and highway construction and maintenance, certain road functions relating to road use in Wales, and the Historic Buildings Council for Wales (transferred from the Ministry of Public Building and Works). In February 1967 functions relating to water and forestry (which had formerly been shared with the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources) were transferred entirely to the Welsh Office, together with duties relating to common land and allotments. The Secretary of State for Wales was made responsible for the work of the Countryside Commission in Wales in 1968.

The Development of Tourism Act 1969 passed duties relating to tourism in Wales to the Secretary of State for Wales, and established the Welsh Tourist Board. In the same year responsibility for the use of the Welsh language in the registration of births, marriages and deaths, and for schemes made by Welsh local authorities for the local organisation of the registration service, was assigned to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State also took over responsibility for health and welfare services formerly carried out by the Department of Health and Social Security. The Welsh Office shared responsibility for agriculture and fishery matters with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food until 1978, when it acquired all functions related to Wales. Four divisional agricultural offices were inherited from MAFF.

During the 1970s changes in central government led to the delegation of additional functions to the Welsh Office. Most of the responsibilities of the Department of Education and Science, in respect of primary and secondary education in Wales, were transferred in 1970; while the child care responsibilities of the Home Office (except for adoption, juvenile courts and delinquency duties) were passed to the Welsh Office in 1971. After January 1971 the Welsh Office shared in the administration of the urban programme of grants in areas of acute social deprivation. In April 1973 it gained control of child adoption authorities in Wales, which had previously been vested in the Home Office. Responsibilities relating to the promotion of industry in Wales, including the Department of Industry's regional office in Wales, were passed to the Welsh Office in 1974-1975; while the oversight of the Manpower Services Commission in Wales was transferred from the Department of Employment in 1977. In 1978 the Welsh Office assumed control of further education functions, and of the training and supply of teachers for primary and secondary education, which had previously been retained by the Department of Education and Science.

A Local Government Staff Commission for Wales was set up under the Local Government Act 1972, and ran until 1977. This body assessed and advised on staff recruitment, transfer and protection, whilst local Welsh government was reorganised. A Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales was established under the same Act, to provide continuous review of local government areas in Wales, and corresponding electoral arrangements.

A Welsh Development Agency was established under the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, with responsibilities for furthering the economic development of Wales, promoting industrial efficiency and competitiveness, safeguarding employment, and improving the environment. Its work included programmes of urban and rural development, property development, land reclamation and environmental improvement, promotion of investment in Wales, and provision of aid to existing businesses. The Agency replaced the Welsh Industrial Estates Corporation, which had been passed to the Welsh Office, along with the Department of Industry's regional office, in 1974-1975. The Act also established a Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board to assist the Agency. In 1976 the Development of Rural Wales Act established the Development Board for Rural Wales, with similar advisory functions. The Welsh Development Agency merged in 1998 with the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land Authority for Wales.

Until the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999 (see below), the Secretary of State for Wales was responsible for most government policies that applied to Wales. His Ministerial team was made up of two Parliamentary Under Secretaries. In 1998 the Welsh Office was divided into the following functional departments:

Agriculture; Transport Planning and Environment Group; Welsh Office Health Department; Economic Development Group; Establishments Group; Finance Group; Education Department; Health Professionals Group; Industry and Training Group; Legal Group; and Local Government Group.

The majority of these departments had headquarters in Cardiff, with offices in London to help co-ordinate policies with Whitehall departments, and to provide secretariat and support services for Ministers and the Permanent Secretary.

In July 1997 the government published a White Paper, A Voice for Wales, which proposed the transfer of most of the powers of the Secretary of State for Wales, to a National Assembly for Wales. This was endorsed by a referendum on 18 September 1998. The Government of Wales Act 1998 established the framework for the National Assembly, which was officially opened on 26 May 1999. Under the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999, most of the powers of the Secretary of State for Wales were transferred to the National Assembly, with effect from 1 July 1999. The Secretary of State retains certain residual functions, including responsibility for legislation relating to Wales in the Parliament at Westminster; and responsibility for ensuring that the interests of Wales are considered in policy formulation within the UK government. The departments of the former Welsh Office have become the Executive of the National Assembly for Wales, and are answerable to the Assembly Cabinet. This consists of a First Secretary (elected by the Assembly), and Assembly Secretaries (appointed by the First Secretary), who deal with specific areas (e.g health, education).

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Environment Division

In 1998 Environment Division was part of the Welsh Office's Transport, Planning and the Environment Group. Its remit covered water quality and regulations (other than fisheries), coast protection and land drainage, waste and air pollution, environmental research, the co-ordination of environmental policy, and countryside and nature conservation (including sponsorship of the Countryside Council for Wales). The Flood and Coastal Defence Branch of the Division worked in partnership with MAFF and the Environment Agency to deal with issues related to flood defence and coastal protection. The Land Quality Section of the Division was responsible for contaminated land, and also worked in co-ordination with the Environment Agency.

Two datasets have been transferred to NDAD which reflect Environment Division's work in the areas of coast protection, and in monitoring contaminated land: see Records in NDAD.

Statistical Directorate and predecessors

Throughout the Welsh Office's history statistical work appears to have been delegated to a central statistical division. This initially took the form of an Economic Services Division with a senior economic adviser and a statistician, and appeared for the first time in 1968-69. The functions of the Division are unclear until the 1974 Civil Service Year Book, which states that the Division had statistics and economics sections, and "collates, advises and provides information of both economic and statistical nature, mainly relating to Wales, for other divisions, departments and outside bodies". At that time the Division was located in the Welsh Office's Planning Group (later known as Economic Planning Group). Around 1982 the Division was renamed Economic and Statistical Services Division; and provided economic and statistical advice to the Welsh Office on subjects such as demography, economic and industrial topics, education, health, agriculture, housing, public expenditure, and local government finance. By 1984 it had been moved from Economic Planning Group to the Welsh Office's Establishment Group. By the end of the 1980s it had gained a Health Intelligence Unit (later named Health Statistics and Analysis Unit), dealing with health and hospital statistics; this was later joined (ca.1994) by a Training and Education Intelligence Unit dealing with schools, training, further and higher education, and grant maintained schools. Around 1994 the Division was renamed Statistical Directorate, providing "statistical advice and analysis on all matters within the Welsh Office's responsibilities". It was moved from the Welsh Office's Establishment Group to Finance Group in 1998, becoming the Statistical Directorate of the National Assembly for Wales Executive following the creation of the National Assembly in 1999.

One of the functions of Statistical Directorate and its predecessors was to gather and analyse data from the annual Agricultural and Horticultural Census in Wales. Until 2001 this was done in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which conducted the Census in England, and maintained the IT system used to process the Census data for England and Wales. In 2001 MAFF was replaced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: see the Administrative History of the Agricultural Departments. Aggregated data relating to the Welsh part of the Census was included in datasets transferred to NDAD by MAFF: see Records in NDAD.

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Records in NDAD

Records in NDAD

Agricultural and Horticultural Census: reference CRDA/4

The Agricultural and Horticultural Census is a major data collection exercise involving farmers and growers in England and Wales, which has been conducted annually since 1866. Datasets of data aggregated to the levels of England and Wales, regions, counties and parishes were transferred to NDAD by the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. These include data for Wales which was gathered and processed by the Welsh Office's Statistical Directorate and its predecessor, Economic and Statistical Services Division (see Subdivisions). For further information, see the Series Catalogue.

Coastal Survey - Wales: reference CRDA/6

NDAD holds one dataset in this series, incorporating the results of a survey of the Welsh coastline, and of the condition of defences against coastal erosion, which was conducted by Flood and Coastal Defence Branch of the Welsh Office's Environment Division (see Subdivisions). The dataset transferred to NDAD includes data gathered up to 1 December 1996. See the Series Catalogue for further details.

Survey of Contaminated Land in Wales: reference CRDA/15

NDAD holds one dataset in this series, incorporating the results of a survey of contaminated land in Wales, undertaken in 1987/88 by the Environmental Advisory Unit of the University of Liverpool, on behalf of the Welsh Office. The survey updated the findings of an earlier survey carried out in 1982/83; the dataset for the 1982/83 survey has not been located. See the Series Catalogue for further details.

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Records in other institutions

Records in other institutions

Records of the Welsh Office and its predecessors are held in the National Archives in classes with the reference "BD".

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Further information

Further information

For further information contact the National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff CF99 1NA; telephone 029 20 825111; or visit the Assembly's web site

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1. The following sources were consulted in the preparation of this administrative history: British Imperial Calendar and Civil Service List 1969 (London: HMSO, 1969), col 738; Cabinet Office, Civil Service Year Book 1989 (London: HMSO, 1989), cols 954-955; Civil Service Year Book 1994 (London: HMSO, 1994), cols 894-895; Civil Service Year Book 1998/99 (London: Stationery Office, 1998), col 968; Civil Service Department, Civil Service Year Book 1974 (London: HMSO, 1974), col 798; Management and Personnel Office, Civil Service Year Book 1982 (London: HMSO, 1982), col 883; Public Record Office, Public Record Office Current Guide (Kew: Public Record Office, 1992), sections 404/1/1-404/6/5 and 501/5/1; Michael Dynes and David Walker, The Times Guide to the New British State: The Government Machine in the 1990's (London, Times Books, 1995), page 296; former web pages of the Welsh Office (, and; National Assembly for Wales web site, "The Assembly: How it Works" page (, "The First Secretary and Assembly Secretaries" page ( and "The Role of the Secretary of State for Wales after Devolution" page (, consulted on 9 June 1999.

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Last updated 2003-06-05 14:55:03


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