1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trade, Board of

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TRADE, BOARD OF. The greater part of such supervision of commerce and industry as exists in the United Kingdom is exercised by the “Committee of Privy Council for Trade” or, as it is usually called, the board of trade. As early as the 14th century councils and commissions had been formed from time to time to advise parliament in matters of trade, but it was not till the middle of the 17th century, under the Common wealth, that any department of a permanent character was attempted. Cromwell's policy in this respect was continued under the Restoration, and in 1660 a committee of the privy council was appointed for the purpose of obtaining information as to the imports and exports of the country and improving trade. A few years later another committee of the council was appointed to act as intermediaries between the crown and the colonies, or foreign plantations, as they were then called. This joint commission of trade and plantations was abolished in 1675, and it was not until twenty years later that it was revived under William III., Among the chief objects set before this board were the inquiry into trade obstacles and the employment of the poor; the state of the silver currency was also a subject on which John Locke, its secretary, lost no time in making representations to the government. Locke's retirement in 1700 removed any chance of the board of trade advocating more enlightened opinions on commercial subjects than those generally held. It had only a small share in making the constitutions of the American colonies, as only the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nova Scotia were formed after the reign of Charles II.; and in 1760 a, secretary of state' for the colonies was appointed, to whom the control drifted away. In 1780 Burke made his celebrated attack on the public offices, which resulted in the abolition of the board. In 1786, however, another permanent committee of the privy council was formed by order in council, and with one or two small exceptions the legal constitution of the board of trade is still regulated by that order. Under it all the principal officers of state, including the first lords of the treasury and admiralty, the secretaries of state, and certain members of the privy council, among whom was the archbishop of Canterbury, obtained seats at the board ex officio; and ten unofficial members, including several eminent statesmen, were also placed on the committee. The duties of the revived board were made the same as they were in the beginning of the century, but the growth of commerce necessarily threw new administrative duties upon it. The board of trade thus became a mere name, the president being practically the secretary of state for trade, and the vice president became, in 1867, a parliamentary secretary, with similar, duties to those of a parliamentary under-secretary of state. At present, besides the president, who has usually a seat in the cabinet[1] and whose salary is £5000 a year, there is a parliamentary secretary with' a salary of £1200, a permanent secretary (salary £1500, rising to £1800), and four assistant secretaries (each with a salary of £1200) for the harbour, marine, commercial, labour and statistical, and railway departments. There are also other important officials in charge of different departments, as mentioned below.

1. The Commercial, Labour and Statistical Department is the real remains of the original board of trade, as it combines the charge of the trade statistics with the general consultative duties with which King Charles II.'s board was originally entrusted. The statistical work includes compiling abstracts, memoranda, -tables and charts relating to the trade and industrial conditions of the United Kingdom, the colonies and foreign countries, the supervision of the trade accounts, the preparation of monthly and annual accounts of shipping and navigation, statistics as to labour, cotton, emigration and foreign and colonial customs, tariffs and regulations. The commercial intelligence department collects and disseminates accurate information on general commercial questions, and collects and exhibits samples of goods of foreign origin competing with similar British goods. It keeps register of British firms who may desire to receive confidential information relative to their respective trades and supplies that information free of charge. The labour statistics published by the department are exhaustive, dealing with hours of labour, the state of the labour market, the condition of the working classes and the prices of commodities; annual reports are also published of trade unions, of strikes and lock-outs and other important subjects. The staff comprises a controller-general (salary £1200 rising to £1500), a deputy controller-general and labour commissioner, a principal for statistics, a principal of the commercial department, an assistant labour commissioner, a chief staff officer for commercial intelligence, a chief labour correspondent, a special inquiry officer, and a staff of investigators and labour correspondents. The department also edits the Board of Trade Journal (started in 1886), giving items of commercial information, trade and tariff notices and various periodical returns. There are also branches which deal with the census of production, labour exchanges, &c.

2. The Railway Department was originally constituted in 1840, and performs multifarious duties under various railway acts, including the inspection of railways before they are open, inquiries into accidents, reports on proposed railways, approval of by-laws, appointment of arbitrators in disputes, as well as many duties under private railway acts. The inspection of tramways, their by-laws and “provisional orders" are all dealt with here, as are similar orders relating to gas and water schemes and to electric lighting. There is a special office of inspection of railways with a chief inspecting officer (salary £1400) and an assistant staff. Patents, designs and trade marks are now dealt with by the patent office under the charge of a controller-general (salary £1800), which is subordinate to the railway department, and copyright, art unions and industrial exhibitions are also among the matters dealt with by the department. Annual returns with regard to its business are published by the department.

3. The Marine Department was created a separate branch of the board of trade in 1850, about which time many new and important marine questions came under the board of trade, such, for example, as the survey of passenger steamers, the compulsory examination of masters and mates, the establishment of shipping offices for the engagement and discharge of seamen. Further work fell to the marine department by the act of 1853, which gave it the control of lighthouse funds, and to a certain extent of pilotage. The consolidating Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 and subsequent legislation so much increased the department that in 1866 it was divided into three, viz. the present marine department, which deals with ships and seamen, the harbour department and the finance department.

4. The Harbour Department was, as stated above, a branch of the marine department until 1866, so far as it is connected with the physical adjuncts of navigation, but various other matters have since been added, e.g. the charge of the foreshores belonging to the crown, formerly managed by the commissioners of woods and forests, and the protection of navigable harbours and channels, long under the control of the admiralty, provisional orders under the General Pier and Harbour Acts and under the Pilotage Acts, and the settlement of by-laws made by harbour authorities. Control over the lighthouse funds of the li hthouse authorities of the United Kingdom, the registry of British ships, wreck, salvage and quarantine are all among the matters dealt with by this department, which also has charge of the standards department for weights and measures.

5. The Finance Department was, like the harbour department, separated in 1866 from the marine department. The accounts of all the branches of the board of trade are in its charge, including the subordinate offices. It also deals with the accounts of harbours, lighthouses and mercantile marine offices, and of the merchant seamen’s fund, and with the consuls’ accounts for disabled seamen abroad. Savings banks and seamen’s money orders are also among the accounts and payments with which it is charged, and outside these marine matters it has to prepare for parliament the life insurance companies’ accounts and to take charge of the bankruptcy estate accounts.

6. The Bankruptcy Department was established under the 71st section of the Bankruptcy Act 1883. At its head is the inspector general in bankruptcy (salary £1200). An account of the duties of the department will be found under Bankruptcy.

7. The Fisheries Department.—By an act of 1886 the powers of the home office over salmon and other fisheries were transferred to the board of trade, and a small department was consequently created charged with the care of those industries. But by an act of 1903 (3 Ed. VII. c. 31) the powers and duties of the board of trade under this department were transferred to the board of agriculture and fisheries.

  1. Since 1882 there have been only two occasions on which the president of the board was not included in the cabinet. Frequent suggestions were made as to raising the status and salary of the president of the board, which up to 1900 was £2000. Lord Jersey's committee in 1904 suggested that the president should be put on the-same footing as a secretary of state, and be given the title of “minister of commerce and industry.” In 1909 the Board of Trade Act repealed the Board of Trade (President) Act 1826, which limited the salary of the president, and enacted that the president should be paid such annual salary as parliament might dererinine (£5000). The increased salary came into operation in 1910, when a new president of the board came into office.