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Scottish Office

Scottish Office
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom used by HM Government in Scotland
Department overview
Formed 1885
Dissolved 1999
Jurisdiction Scotland
Headquarters St Andrew's House
Minister responsible

The Scottish Office was a department of the United Kingdom Government from 1885 until 1999, exercising a wide range of government functions in relation to Scotland under the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, most of its work was transferred to the newly established Scottish Executive, (now officially the Scottish Government) with a small residue of functions retained by the Scotland Office.


  • History 1
  • Ministers 2
  • Scottish government bodies 3
  • References 4


Following the Act of Union 1707 and the abolition of the old Scottish Parliament, the post of Secretary of State for Scotland was established within the government of Great Britain. The Secretary of State was entrusted with general responsibility for the government of Scotland, with the Lord Advocate acting as chief law officer in Scotland. The post of Secretary of State for Scotland was abolished in 1746, and the Lord Advocate assumed responsibility for government business in Scotland. In 1828 the Home Secretary was formally put "in charge of Scotland", but the Lord Advocate continued to be the voice of Scotland in the government and took the lead in Scottish debates.

During the nineteenth century, the functions of government increased, particularly at a local level dealing with issues such as public health, poor law relief, roads and education, and local authorities were active in providing water supplies, drainage, hospitals and town planning. To exercise control over these local activities, a number of supervisory boards such as the Board of Supervision for Poor Relief (1845 - 1894), the General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy (1857 - 1913) and the Scotch Education Department (a committee of the Privy Council) were established. However the accountability of these Boards was not clear, they were staffed by amateurs and they increased the scope for government patronage. In 1869 Scottish MPs asked Gladstone to appoint a Scottish Secretary with responsibility for the boards, but the post of Secretary for Scotland, and with it the Scottish Office, were not created until 1885.

In 1928, the Scottish Board of Health, the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, and the Prison Commissioners for Scotland were abolished as semi-independent bodies and instead became departments, and were moved to Edinburgh.[1]

In 1938, the Report of the Departmental Committee on Scottish Administration recommended that certain departments be merged,[2] and in 1939 the Scottish Education Department, Department of Health for Scotland, Department of Agriculture for Scotland, Fishery Board for Scotland and the Prisons Department for Scotland were abolished as separate departments, and instead became departments of the Secretary of State (in practice, the Scottish Office).[1] The Education and Health departments stayed relatively intact, but the Prisons Department, the Department of Agriculture for Scotland and the Fishery Board for Scotland merged with the remainder of the old Scottish Office to become the Scottish Home Department.[3]


The post of Secretary for Scotland was established in 1885.[4] From 1892 the holder sat in Cabinet and in 1926 the post was elevated to the rank of Principal Secretary of State and retitled Secretary of State for Scotland.[5] The addition of responsibility for health functions in 1919 resulted in the creation of a junior ministerial post, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health for Scotland, which in turn became a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926.

Additional Parliamentary Under-Secretary posts were added in 1940 and 1951 and a Minister of State post was established in 1951. In 1969-70 one of the Under-Secretary posts was replaced by an additional Minister of State. From 1974 to 1979 there were two Ministers of State and three Under-Secretaries, reverting to one Minister of State in 1979.

Scottish government bodies

  • Scotch Education Department, created in 1839 but only became active in 1872[6]
    • renamed Scottish Education Department in 1918.
    • renamed Scottish Office Education Department in 1991.
    • renamed Scottish Office Education and Industry Department in 1995.
  • Prison Commission, created in 1877.
    • abolished and recreated as Prison Department in 1928.[1]
    • merged with Scottish Office to form Scottish Home Department in 1939.[3]


  • Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)
  • Memorandum by The National Archives, "Scottish World War II Administrative Records"
  1. ^ a b c d e section 1, Reorganisation of Offices (Scotland) Act 1928
  2. ^ HL Deb 21 February 1963 vol 246 c1443
  3. ^ a b c d section 1, Reorganisation of Offices (Scotland) Act 1939
  4. ^ section 5, Secretary for Scotland Act 1885
  5. ^ section 1, Secretaries of State Act 1926
  6. ^
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