United Kingdom
Secretary of State for Defence
Incumbent
Grant Shapps
since 31 August 2023
Ministry of Defence
StyleDefence Secretary
(informal)
The Right Honourable
(within the UK and Commonwealth)
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 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.

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 1997, Michael Portillo was filling this post at the time of the Portillo moment.[4] In 2019, Penny Mordaunt became the UK's first female defence secretary.[5]

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.[6]

The current secretary of state for defence is Grant Shapps who was appointed on 31 August 2023 by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after the resignation of Ben Wallace.

Responsibilities

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

History

Minister for Co-ordination of Defence (1936–1940)

Main article: Minister for Co-ordination of Defence

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 of Defence (1940–1964)

Main articles: Ministry of Defence (1947–1964) and Minister of Defence (United Kingdom)

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.

Secretary of State for Defence (1964–present)

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).

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)


Secretaries of State for Defence (1964–present)

Secretary of State for Defence
Portrait Name
(birth–death)
Term of office Length of term Party Ministry
Peter Thorneycroft
MP for Monmouth
(1909–1994)
[8]
1 April 1964 16 October 1964 6 months and 15 days
(was Minister of Defence immediately before)
Conservative Douglas-Home
Denis Healey
MP for Leeds East
(1917–2015)
[9]
16 October 1964 19 June 1970 5 years, 8 months and 3 days Labour Wilson
(I & II)
Peter Carrington
6th Baron Carrington

(1919–2018)
20 June 1970 8 January 1974 3 years, 6 months and 19 days Conservative Heath
Ian Gilmour
MP for Central Norfolk
(1926–2007)
[10]
8 January 1974 4 March 1974 1 month and 24 days Conservative
Roy Mason
MP for Barnsley
(1924–2015)
[11]
5 March 1974 9 September 1976 2 years, 6 months and 4 days Labour Wilson
(III & IV)
Fred Mulley
MP for Sheffield Park
(1918–1995)
[12]
10 September 1976 4 May 1979 2 years, 7 months and 24 days Labour Callaghan
Francis Pym
MP for Cambridgeshire
(1922–2008)
[13]
5 May 1979 4 January 1981 1 year, 7 months and 30 days Conservative Thatcher I
John Nott
MP for St Ives
(born 1932)
[14]
5 January 1981 5 January 1983 2 years Conservative
Michael Heseltine
MP for Henley
(born 1933)
[15]
6 January 1983 8 January 1986 3 years and 2 days Conservative Thatcher II
George Younger
MP for Ayr
(1931–2003)
[16][17]
9 January 1986 23 July 1989 3 years, 6 months and 14 days Conservative
Thatcher III
Tom King
MP for Bridgwater
(born 1933)
[18]
28 July 1989 9 April 1992 2 years, 8 months and 12 days Conservative
Major I
Malcolm Rifkind
MP for Edinburgh Pentlands
(born 1946)
[19]
10 April 1992 4 July 1995 3 years, 2 months and 24 days Conservative Major II
Michael Portillo
MP for Enfield Southgate
(born 1953)
[20]
5 July 1995 2 May 1997 1 year, 9 months and 27 days Conservative
George Robertson
MP for Hamilton South
(born 1946)
[21]
3 May 1997 11 October 1999 2 years, 5 months and 8 days Labour Blair I
Geoff Hoon
MP for Ashfield
(born 1953)
[22]
11 October 1999 6 May 2005 5 years, 6 months and 25 days Labour
Blair II
John Reid
MP for Airdrie and Shotts
(born 1947)
[23]
6 May 2005 5 May 2006 11 months and 29 days Labour Blair III
Des Browne
MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun
(born 1952)
[24]
5 May 2006 3 October 2008 2 years, 4 months and 28 days Labour
Brown
John Hutton
MP for Barrow and Furness
(born 1955)
[25]
3 October 2008 5 June 2009 8 months and 2 days Labour
Bob Ainsworth
MP for Coventry North East
(born 1952)
[26]
5 June 2009 11 May 2010 11 months and 6 days Labour
Liam Fox
MP for North Somerset
(born 1961)
[27][28]
12 May 2010 14 October 2011 1 year, 5 months and 3 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, 9 months and 1 day Conservative
Michael Fallon
MP for Sevenoaks
(born 1952)
[31][32]
15 July 2014 1 November 2017 3 years, 3 months and 17 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, 5 months and 29 days Conservative
Penny Mordaunt
MP for Portsmouth North
(born 1973)
[35][36]
1 May 2019 24 July 2019 2 months and 23 days Conservative
Ben Wallace
MP for Wyre and Preston North
(born 1970)
[37][38]
24 July 2019 31 August 2023 4 years, 1 month and 7 days Conservative Johnson I
Johnson II
Truss
Sunak
Grant Shapps
MP for Welwyn Hatfield
(born 1968)
[39]
31 August 2023 Incumbent 7 months and 5 days* Conservative

* Incumbent's length of term last updated: 5 April 2024.

References

  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. ^ "BBC Rewind: Michael Portillo loses Enfield Southgate". BBC News. 17 November 2014. Retrieved 9 May 2021. One of the most high-profile victims of the Labour party landslide in the 1997 general election was John Major's Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo.
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ "Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, faces questioning from Defence Committee". parliament.uk. 18 June 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  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.