First Secretary of State

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First Secretary of State
Office not in use

since 13 July 2016
Style The Right Honourable
Nominator Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Appointer Elizabeth II
Term length No fixed term
Inaugural holder Rab Butler
Formation 13 July 1962
Final holder George Osborne
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First Secretary of State is an honorific title occasionally used within the Government of the United Kingdom. The title, which implies seniority over all other Secretaries of State,[1] has no specific powers or authority attached to it beyond that of any other Secretary of State.

The title is not always in use, so there have sometimes been extended gaps between successive holders of the title, the most lengthy of which being the 25 years between 1970 and 1995. The last holder was George Osborne, having held the post from May 2015 until July 2016.

Relationship with Deputy Prime Minister[edit]

The post of Deputy Prime Minister had been created in 1942 for Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party in Winston Churchill's wartime coalition ministry. The post indicated that the holder ranked second in government, after the Prime Minister, but did not confer cabinet rank and did not pay a salary. For this reason, the Deputy Prime Minister concurrently held other offices, entitling him to a place in cabinet.

The title First Secretary of State indicated the holder's rank as a Secretary of State, with a place in cabinet. The title was created in 1962 for Deputy Prime Minister R. A. Butler, granting him a place in cabinet despite not holding a specific cabinet portfolio. Michael Heseltine and John Prescott were also relieved of their cabinet portfolios when serving as Deputy Prime Minister, and were therefore additionally appointed First Secretary of State. In 1964, Prime Minister Harold Wilson established the alternative usage, appointing a First Secretary of State among the cabinet without appointing a Deputy Prime Minister.

The two titles have only existed concurrently with different holders in one government: in David Cameron's coalition ministry of 2010–15, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister, and William Hague was appointed First Secretary of State.

Most recent holder[edit]

The most recent First Secretary of State was George Osborne, who first received the title from Prime Minister David Cameron in addition to his reappointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer[2] immediately following the 2015 General Election, and held it until he left cabinet in July 2016.

List of First Secretaries of State[edit]

Colour key
(for political parties)
Name Portrait Term of office Concurrent office(s) Political party
(Party position)
Prime Minister
R. A. Butler[3] Rab Butler.png 13 July 1962 18 October 1963 Deputy Prime Minister Conservative Harold Macmillan
Office not in use 1963–1964 Alec Douglas-Home
George Brown George Brown, 1967.jpg 16 October 1964 11 August 1966 Economic Secretary Labour
(Deputy Leader)
Harold Wilson
Michael Stewart Michael Stewart.jpg 11 August 1966 6 April 1968 Economic Secretary (until August 1967)
Foreign Secretary (from March 1968)
Barbara Castle Mme Barbara Castle, Ministre britannique du développement outre-mer.jpg 6 April 1968 19 June 1970 Employment and Productivity Secretary Labour
Office not in use 1970–1995 Edward Heath
Harold Wilson
James Callaghan
Margaret Thatcher
John Major
Michael Heseltine Lord Heseltine, Deputy Prime Minister, UK (1995-97) (10559130986).jpg 20 July 1995 2 May 1997 Deputy Prime Minister Conservative
Office not in use 1997–2001 Tony Blair
John Prescott John Prescott on his last day as Deputy Prime Minister, June 2007.jpg 8 June 2001 27 June 2007 Deputy Prime Minister (from May 1997) Labour
(Deputy Leader)
Office not in use 2007–2009 Gordon Brown
The Lord Mandelson Peter Mandelson at Politics of Climate Change 3.jpg 5 June 2009 11 May 2010 Business Secretary
Lord President of the Council
William Hague William Hague, Foreign Sec (crop).jpg 12 May 2010 8 May 2015 Foreign Secretary (until July 2014)
Leader of the House of Commons (from July 2014)
Conservative David Cameron
George Osborne George osborne hi.jpg 8 May 2015 13 July 2016 Chancellor of the Exchequer Conservative David Cameron
Office not in use 2016–present Theresa May

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nicholas Watt (8 May 2015). "George Osborne made first secretary of state in cabinet reshuffle". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  2. ^ "First Secretary of State". 
  3. ^ Howard, Anthony (February 7, 2013). "RAB: The Life of R.A. Butler". A&C Black.