Secretary of State for Defence

Summary

The secretary of state for defence, also known as the defence secretary, is a secretary of state in the Government of the United Kingdom, with responsibility for the Ministry of Defence.[3] As a senior minister, the incumbent is a member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.

United Kingdom
Secretary of State for Defence
Incumbent
John Healey
since 5 July 2024
Ministry of Defence
Style
TypeMinister of the Crown
StatusSecretary of State
Member of
Reports toThe Prime Minister
SeatWestminster
NominatorThe Prime Minister
AppointerThe Monarch
(on the advice of the Prime Minister)
Term lengthAt His Majesty's pleasure
Constituting instrumentDefence (Transfer of Functions) Act 1964 section 1(1)(a)
Precursor
Formation1 April 1964
First holderPeter Thorneycroft
Salary£159,038 per annum (2022)[1]
(including £86,584 MP salary)[2]
WebsiteDefence Secretary

The post of secretary of state for defence was created on 1 April 1964, replacing the positions of Minister of Defence, First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Air, while the individual offices of the British Armed Forces were abolished and their functions transferred to the Ministry of Defence. In 2019, Penny Mordaunt became the UK's first female defence secretary.[4]

The secretary of state is supported by the other ministers in the Defence Ministerial Team and the MOD permanent secretary. The corresponding shadow minister is the shadow secretary of state for defence, and the secretary of state is also scrutinised by the Defence Select Committee.[5]

The current secretary of state for defence is John Healey, who was appointed on 5 July 2024 following the 2024 United Kingdom general election.[6]

Responsibilities

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In contrast to what is generally known as a defence minister in many other countries, the Defence Secretary's remit includes:

History

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Principal political leaders of the English/British Armed Forces:
Royal Navy British Army Royal Air Force Co-ordination
1628 First Lord of the Admiralty
(1628–1964)
1794 Secretary of State for War
(1794–1801)
1801 Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
(1801–1854)
1854 Secretary of State for War
(1854–1964)
1919 Secretary of State for Air
(1919–1964)
1936 Minister for Co-ordination of Defence
(1936–1940)
1940 Minister of Defence (1940–1964)
1964 Secretary of State for Defence (1964–present) Minister for Co-ordination of Defence (1936–1940) edit

The position of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence was a British Cabinet-level position established in 1936 to oversee and co-ordinate the rearmament of Britain's defences. It was established by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin in response to criticism that Britain's armed forces were understrength compared to those of Nazi Germany. When the Second World War broke out, the new Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain formed a small War Cabinet and it was expected that the Minister would serve as a spokesperson for the three service ministers, the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for Air; however, political considerations resulted in all three posts being included in the Cabinet, and this role proved increasingly redundant. In April 1940 the position was formally wound up and the functions transferred to other Ministers.

Minister Term of office Party Ministry
  Thomas Inskip
MP for Fareham
(1876–1947)
13 March 1936 29 January 1939 Conservative Baldwin III
Chamberlain I
  Ernle Chatfield
1st Baron Chatfield

(1873–1967)
29 January 1939 3 April 1940 Independent
(National)
Chamberlain War

Minister of Defence (1940–1964)

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The post of Minister of Defence was responsible for co-ordination of defence and security from its creation in 1940 until its abolition in 1964. The post was a Cabinet level post and generally ranked above the three service ministers, some of whom, however, continued to also serve in Cabinet.

On his appointment as Prime Minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill created for himself the new post of Minister of Defence. The post was created in response to previous criticism that there had been no clear single minister in charge of the prosecution of World War II. In 1946, the post became the only cabinet-level post representing the military, with the three service ministers – the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for Air, now formally subordinated to the Minister of Defence.

Portrait Name
(birth–death)
Term of office Tenure Political party Prime Minister
Took office Left office
  Winston Churchill
MP for Epping
(1874–1965)
10 May 1940 27 July 1945 5 years, 78 days Conservative Churchill War
Churchill Caretaker
  Clement Attlee
MP for Limehouse
(1883–1967)
27 July 1945 20 December 1946 1 year, 146 days Labour Attlee I
  A. V. Alexander
MP for Sheffield Hillsborough
(1885–1965)
20 December 1946 28 February 1950 3 years, 70 days Labour Co-op
  Emanuel Shinwell
MP for Easington
(1884–1986)
28 February 1950 26 October 1951 1 year, 240 days Labour Attlee II
  Winston Churchill
MP for Woodford
(1874–1965)
28 October 1951 1 March 1952 127 days Conservative Churchill III
  Harold Alexander
1st Earl Alexander of Tunis

(1891–1969)
1 March 1952 18 October 1954 2 years, 231 days Independent
  Harold Macmillan
MP for Bromley
(1894–1986)
18 October 1954 7 April 1955 171 days Conservative
  Selwyn Lloyd
MP for The Wirral
(1904–1978)
7 April 1955 20 December 1955 257 days Conservative Eden
  Walter Monckton
MP for Bristol West
(1891–1965)
20 December 1955 18 October 1956 303 days Conservative
  Antony Head
MP for Carshalton
(1906–1983)
18 October 1956 9 January 1957 83 days Conservative
  Duncan Sandys
MP for Streatham
(1906–1987)
13 January 1957 14 October 1959 2 years, 274 days Conservative Macmillan I
  Harold Watkinson
MP for Woking
(1910–1995)
14 October 1959 13 July 1962 2 years, 272 days Conservative Macmillan II
  Peter Thorneycroft
MP for Monmouth
(1909–1994)
13 July 1962 1 April 1964 1 year, 263 days Conservative
Douglas-Home

Secretary of State for Defence (1964–present)

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The post was created in 1964 as successor to the posts of Minister for Coordination of Defence and Minister of Defence. It replaced the positions of First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air, as the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry were merged into the Ministry of Defence (the Secretary of State for War had already ceased to be a cabinet position in 1946, with the creation of the cabinet-level Minister of Defence).

Secretaries of State for Defence (1964–present)

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Secretary of State for Defence
Portrait Name
(birth–death)
Term of office Tenure Party Ministry
  Peter Thorneycroft
MP for Monmouth
(1909–1994)
[8]
1 April 1964 16 October 1964 198 days Conservative Douglas-Home
  Denis Healey
MP for Leeds East
(1917–2015)
[9]
16 October 1964 19 June 1970 5 years, 246 days Labour Wilson
(I & II)
  Peter Carrington
6th Baron Carrington

(1919–2018)
20 June 1970 8 January 1974 3 years, 202 days Conservative Heath
Ian Gilmour
MP for Central Norfolk
(1926–2007)
[10]
8 January 1974 4 March 1974 55 days Conservative
Roy Mason
MP for Barnsley
(1924–2015)
[11]
5 March 1974 9 September 1976 2 years, 188 days Labour Wilson
(III & IV)
  Fred Mulley
MP for Sheffield Park
(1918–1995)
[12]
10 September 1976 4 May 1979 2 years, 236 days Labour Callaghan
  Francis Pym
MP for Cambridgeshire
(1922–2008)
[13]
5 May 1979 4 January 1981 1 year, 244 days Conservative Thatcher I
  John Nott
MP for St Ives
(born 1932)
[14]
5 January 1981 5 January 1983 2 years, 0 days Conservative
  Michael Heseltine
MP for Henley
(born 1933)
[15]
6 January 1983 8 January 1986 3 years, 2 days Conservative Thatcher II
  George Younger
MP for Ayr
(1931–2003)
[16][17]
9 January 1986 23 July 1989 3 years, 195 days Conservative
Thatcher III
  Tom King
MP for Bridgwater
(born 1933)
[18]
28 July 1989 9 April 1992 2 years, 256 days Conservative
Major I
  Malcolm Rifkind
MP for Edinburgh Pentlands
(born 1946)
[19]
10 April 1992 4 July 1995 3 years, 85 days Conservative Major II
  Michael Portillo
MP for Enfield Southgate
(born 1953)
[20]
5 July 1995 2 May 1997 1 year, 301 days Conservative
  George Robertson
MP for Hamilton South
(born 1946)
[21]
3 May 1997 11 October 1999 2 years, 161 days Labour Blair I
  Geoff Hoon
MP for Ashfield
(born 1953)
[22]
11 October 1999 6 May 2005 5 years, 207 days Labour
Blair II
  John Reid
MP for Airdrie and Shotts
(born 1947)
[23]
6 May 2005 5 May 2006 364 days Labour Blair III
  Des Browne
MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun
(born 1952)
[24]
5 May 2006 3 October 2008 2 years, 151 days Labour
Brown
  John Hutton
MP for Barrow and Furness
(born 1955)
[25]
3 October 2008 5 June 2009 245 days Labour
  Bob Ainsworth
MP for Coventry North East
(born 1952)
[26]
5 June 2009 11 May 2010 340 days Labour
  Liam Fox
MP for North Somerset
(born 1961)
[27][28]
12 May 2010 14 October 2011 1 year, 156 days Conservative Cameron–Clegg
(Con.L.D.)
  Philip Hammond
MP for Runnymede and Weybridge
(born 1955)
[29][30]
14 October 2011 15 July 2014 2 years, 274 days Conservative
  Michael Fallon
MP for Sevenoaks
(born 1952)
[31][32]
15 July 2014 1 November 2017 3 years, 109 days Conservative
Cameron II
May I
May II
  Gavin Williamson
MP for South Staffordshire
(born 1976)
[33][34]
2 November 2017 1 May 2019 1 year, 180 days Conservative
  Penny Mordaunt
MP for Portsmouth North
(born 1973)
[35][36]
1 May 2019 24 July 2019 84 days Conservative
  Ben Wallace
MP for Wyre and Preston North
(born 1970)
[37][38]
24 July 2019 31 August 2023 4 years, 38 days Conservative Johnson I
Johnson II
Truss
Sunak
  Grant Shapps
MP for Welwyn Hatfield
(born 1968)
[39]
31 August 2023 5 July 2024 328 days Conservative
  John Healey
MP for Rawmarsh and Conisbrough
(born 1960)
5 July 2024 Incumbent 19 days Labour Starmer

Timeline

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John Healey (politician)Grant ShappsBen Wallace (politician)Penny MordauntGavin WilliamsonMichael FallonPhilip HammondLiam FoxBob AinsworthJohn Hutton, Baron Hutton of FurnessDes BrowneJohn Reid, Baron Reid of CardowanGeoff HoonGeorge Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port EllenMichael PortilloMalcom RifkindTom KingGeorge YoungerMichael HeseltineJohn NottFrancis PymFred MulleyRoy MasonIan GilmourPeter Carrington, 6th Baron CarringtonDenis HealeyPeter ThorneycraftHarold WatkinsonDuncan SandysAntony HeadWalter MoncktonSelwyn LloydHarold MacmillanHarold AlexanderEmanuel ShinwellA. V. AlexanderClement AttleeWinston ChurchillErnle ChatfieldThomas Inskip

References

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  1. ^ "Salaries of Members of His Majesty's Government – Financial Year 2022–23" (PDF). 15 December 2022.
  2. ^ "Pay and expenses for MPs". parliament.uk. Retrieved 15 December 2022.
  3. ^ "Secretary of State for Defence". gov.uk. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  4. ^ "Penny Mordaunt - the UK's first female defence secretary". BBC News. 2 May 2019. Retrieved 10 June 2021. Penny Mordaunt has become the UK's first female defence secretary after Gavin Williamson was sacked.
  5. ^ "Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, faces questioning from Defence Committee". parliament.uk. 18 June 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  6. ^ "Ministerial Appointments: July 2024". GOV.UK. Retrieved 5 July 2024.
  7. ^ "Secretary of State for Defence - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk.
  8. ^ "Mr Peter Thorneycroft". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Lord Healey". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  11. ^ "Lord Mason of Barnsley". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  12. ^ "Lord Mulley". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  13. ^ "Lord Pym". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Rt Hon Sir John Nott". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Lord Heseltine". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  16. ^ "Rt Hon Sir George Younger". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  17. ^ George Jones (27 January 2003). "Thatcher's ally George Younger dies at 71". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  18. ^ "Lord King of Bridgwater". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  19. ^ "Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  20. ^ "Rt Hon Michael Portillo". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Lord Robertson of Port Ellen". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  22. ^ "Mr Geoffrey Hoon". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  23. ^ "Lord Reid of Cardowan". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  24. ^ "Lord Browne of Ladyton". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  25. ^ "Lord Hutton of Furness". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  26. ^ "Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  27. ^ "Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  28. ^ "Who's who in the coalition cabinet". The Guardian. 13 May 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  29. ^ "Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  30. ^ "Liam Fox quits as defence secretary". BBC News. 14 October 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  31. ^ "Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  32. ^ "Reshuffle at-a-glance: In, out and moved about". BBC News. 15 July 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  33. ^ "Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  34. ^ "Gavin Williamson replaces Michael Fallon as defence secretary". BBC News. 2 November 2017. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  35. ^ "Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  36. ^ "Gavin Williamson sacked over Huawei leak". 1 May 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  37. ^ "Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  38. ^ "Ben Wallace Named New Defence Secretary". Forces Network. 24 July 2019. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  39. ^ "Grant Shapps". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
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  • www.gov.uk/mod