The Cabinet Papers banner

Specialist ministers and junior Cabinet posts

Specialist ministers and junior Cabinet posts comprise:

  • Great Offices of State who sit in Cabinet but have few (if any) departmental responsibilities
  • Specialist ministers who have specific technical roles - the law officers, Presidents of Boards or positions similar to Postmaster-General
  • Ministerial positions that do not have the importance of the major Secretaries of State and senior Cabinet posts

Often these posts did not guarantee a seat in the Cabinet, though the political importance of the holder could lead to a seat at the Cabinet table. The following list is not exhaustive but shows how some of the Cabinet posts developed and disappeared over the years.

Minister for Co-ordination of Defence

Created in 1936, this post lasted only four years before being abolished in 1940. It aimed to improve co-operation between the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force and co-ordinate the rearmament programmes in operation in the 1930s.

Lord President of the Council

The Lord President of the Council presides over the Privy Council, which is a body of advisors to the monarch. The Privy Council predates formation of the Cabinet, and has taken over many of the earlier roles of the Privy Council and its members. By convention, the Lord President of the Council is a member of the Cabinet.

Lord Privy Seal

The development of Cabinet left the post with little responsibility. The holder often acts as a minister without portfolio (one who does not have departmental responsibilities) and is able to undertake investigations and projects when needed by the Cabinet or Prime Minister. It is probably the earliest recognisable government post. The holder is traditionally a member of the Cabinet. Frequently the post is combined with Leader of the Commons or Leader of the House of Lords.

Lord Chancellor

The Lord Chancellor has performed a number of roles; the speaker for the House of Lords, the head of the judiciary, head of his department (the Lord Chancellor's Office 1885-1971, Lord Chancellor's Department 1971-2003) as well as various functions regarding the Church of England. This extremely old government position dates back to possibly earlier, but at than 1066 and used to be held by a member of the church. By custom the Lord Chancellor is a Cabinet post.

President of the Local Government Board

This post was responsible for overseeing the activities of local authorities and the services they and the government provided for the relief of poverty. This position was introduced in 1871 and was abolished in 1919 when the responsibilities were transferred to the newly established Minister of Health.

Minister of Health

The Minister of Health was responsible for health and social security policy during the interwar period and the Second World War. The post was created as part of the 1919 reconstruction of the Local Government Board. The establishment of the National Health Service in 1945 vastly added to the power, prestige and importance of this Cabinet position. In 1968 it was amalgamated with social services to form the post of Secretary of State for Social Services. The two areas were de-merged in 1988 and a separate Secretary of State for Health position established.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The post was a junior Cabinet position, evolving into a minister without portfolio post (when in Cabinet) as a professional deputy running the estate of the Duchy of Lancaster. Policy matters delegated to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster usually fall outside the expertise of the existing departmental structure.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The position's responsibilities include negotiating with departments about budget allocations, public sector pay, welfare reform and procurement policy. This position is second to the Chancellor of the Excequer in the Treasury heirarchy and (created in 1961) is a relatively new junior Cabinet post.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury

This Treasury department role was responsible at various times for the Royal Mint, the Customs and Excise and the Office of National Statistics. It is a junior position in the Treasury was only a Cabinet post during the Bonar Law government.

President of the Board of Education

Originally this post was responsible for primary education and only later responsible for secondary schools. It was a late Victorian period creation dating from 1900, which lasted until 1944 when the Minister for Education replaced the position. The Minister for Education was in turn replaced when the Ministry of Education was merged with the Ministry of Science to create the Ministry of Education and Science in 1964.

Postmaster General

This position was responsible for the operation of the Royal Mail, the electric telegraph from 1868 and later, broadcasting. The post was abolished in 1969.

First Commissioner of Works

This position was responsible for government land and buildings as well as Crown property (other than the personal processions of the Royal family). In particular the post was responsible for the maintenance and construction of government owned buildings. The post was established in 1851 but by the 1920s was known as the Minister for Works. As well as being responsible for existing buildings, the Minister was also responsible for new buildings to meet government needs, leading to the acquisition of a planning role in the 1940s.

The role also had some responsibility for the relief of large-scale unemployment during the late 1920s and 1930s. It took responsibility for commissioning extensive public works and improvement schemes to provide jobs and stimulate the local economy. The post, however, was not sufficiently important for a permanent place at Cabinet. It was made redundant in 1970 with the establishment of the Minister for the Environment and then the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Attorney General

The Attorney General is the government's legal advisor. The position dates back to 1315. In common with the Solicitor General this post reached its modern shape in the 18th century. Only rarely has this position been considered important enough to have at place at Cabinet.

Minister without Portfolio

This is an unusual Cabinet position, as the holder does not have any specific duties or departmental responsibilities. It can be used as a reward for loyalty, to recognise political power and status, reconcile factions within a party (by allowing them access to the Cabinet process), or as head of investigations or policies that do not sit comfortably within the existing departmental structure. One example is the Minister without Portfolio for The League of Nations, although this was the only case where an additional title was added.

Minister for Food

Created in 1939, this post oversaw the supply of food to the nation and ensured everyone received a sufficiently nutritious diet through the process of rationing. Post-war restrictions and economies ensured a need to maintain rationing, but with the slow but steady removal of rationing and restrictions the need for a separate post was reduced. In 1954 it was merged with the post of Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.


The National Archives Newsletter Icon

Send me The National Archives’ newsletter

A monthly round-up of news, blogs, offers and events.