Ministers of the Crown


Members of Parliament and Peers appointed by the Prime Minister to the Government are known as Ministers of the Crown.

After the Prime Minister, the next most senior Ministerial rank is that of Secretary of State (this includes the Chancellor and any Deputy Prime Minister). The hierarchy is normally considered to be as follows, although a specific order of precedence is published after each reshuffle:

Prime Minister
Deputy Prime Minister/First Secretary of State (not always a dedicated appointment)
Chancellor of the Exchequer/Home Secretary/and Foreign Secretary (the ‘Offices of State’)
Secretary of State
Minister of State
Parliamentary Secretary/Under Secretary of State

Secretaries of State are empowered by Acts of Parliament. They are always members of the Cabinet and they tend to be privy counsellors as well. Secretaries of State head large Whitehall departments and have extensive policy and financial responsibilities. Apart from any ceremonial or historic significance, Secretaries of State who head ‘spending departments’ (those responsible for the majority of government expenditure) tend to be considered more important.

In a large Whitehall department, the next in line is a Minister of State, who might be thought of as a deputy to the Secretary of State, although larger departments may have several Ministers of State. Occasionally Ministers of State attend Cabinet Meetings. They tend to be given their own responsibilities within a department, with the agreement of the Prime Minister.

Other Ministers are either Parliamentary Secretaries (in a department where there is no Secretary of State or where the Secretary of State sits in the other House) or Under Secretaries of State. They have smaller, more specific responsibilities and there may be several in one department.

Any change to a Minister’s responsibilities or title requires the agreement of the Prime Minister. Ministers hold the position to which they have been appointed for as long as they have the confidence of the Prime Minister or until they resign.

Who becomes a government Minister?

Secretaries of State and Ministers of State are normally drawn from Members of the House of Commons, where they can be accountable to MPs for their policies and spending. 

In each department, there is normally one Minister (normally a more junior Minister) who is drawn from the House of Lords.   

Very occasionally, people from outside party politics, can be appointed to Ministerial roles.  In this case they are appointed to the House of Lords at the time as being appointed.  This happened during Gordon Brown’s time in Downing Street, when he appointed the former Admiral Lord West to the Ministry of Defence, and the former Director of the Confederation of British Industry, Digby Jones, as Minister for Trade and Investment.

Payroll Vote

Both Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries/Under Secretaries are commonly known as Junior Ministers. Because of the principle of collective responsibility, all Ministers, however junior, will be expected to back the Government in a Commons division or resign. T

his is known as the ‘payroll vote’ – as is one on which Government Whips can generally rely.

Ministerial resignations

Ministers continue in office for as long as they have the confidence of the Prime Minister. Except during a reshuffle when they may not be re-appointed or are offered a demotion, Ministers are not often formally sacked from their jobs, although they may be invited to tender their resignation by the Prime Minister.

The resignation of a Minister is normally announced by Number 10 and is accompanied by the release of an exchange of letters between the resigning Minister and the Prime Minister. Ministers who resign are entitled to make a personal statement to the House to explain their reasons for leaving office, but they are not obliged to do so.

Ministerial Private Office

All Ministers, of whatever rank, have a Private Office of four or more civil servants assigned to him or her on appointment. The lead figure in the Private Office is the Private Secretary who works closely with the Minister in discharging all his or her functions.  The Private Office normally includes a Diary Secretary who arranges the Minister’s schedule.

The Private Office is responsible for the Minister’s diary and work programme, including the content of the famous Red Boxes.