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In the parliamentary systems of several Commonwealth countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, it is customary for the prime minister to appoint parliamentary secretaries (in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, "parliamentary assistants") from his or her political party in parliament to assist cabinet ministers with their work. The role of parliamentary secretaries has varied under different prime ministers. Originally, the post was used as a training ground for future ministers.
In the United Kingdom, Parliamentary Secretary (in full, usually Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in those departments headed by a Secretary of State) is the third level of government minister, below Minister of State and Secretary of State (or another minister of Secretary of State rank, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer). Not all departments have all three levels of minister.
A Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS), on the other hand, is a Member of Parliament who acts as an unpaid assistant to an individual minister, but has no ministerial role, although is expected to support the government at all times.
During Jean Chrétien's term as Prime Minister of Canada, parliamentary secretaries were set to two-year terms and the post was used as a reward for weary backbenchers. Their duty was to answer questions and table reports on behalf of ministers when they were unable to be present in the house.
Chrétien's successor as Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, when sworn-in in 2003, promised a new role for parliamentary secretaries. They would now be sworn into the privy council, giving them access to some secret documents, and allowing them to attend Canadian Cabinet meetings and be assigned specific files by ministers. This replaced the positions of Secretaries of State which had been employed under Chrétien.
In Ontario, the positions are referred to as Parliamentary Assistant who assists full Ministers in select areas of their Ministries but are not members of the cabinet.
In Australia, parliamentary secretaries are appointed in the federal government and most state governments. At the federal level, the Ministers of State Act 1952 provides for the Prime Minister to appoint a member from either house of Parliament to be a parliamentary secretary to a minister. The Act also provides that, for constitutional purposes, parliamentary secretaries are to be appointed as ministers of state, which enables them to be paid a salary. In practice, parliamentary secretaries are the third level of ministerial positions, after cabinet ministers (who are members of the Cabinet of Australia) and other ministers.
According to Paul Keating in 1993, "the institution of Parliamentary Secretary provides a very inexpensive means not only of giving talented individuals executive experience but providing Ministers with needed support."
Republic of Ireland
In the Irish Free State, the Ministers and Secretaries Act of 1924 created the post of Parliamentary Secretary, originally limited to seven holders. In 1978, the office was superseded in the Republic of Ireland by the office of Minister of State.
In India, the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 under Article 77(3) of the Constitution of India created the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs which performs a similar role. The Ministry has in its ambit, amongst others, the following duties:
- Planning and Coordination of legislative and other official business in both Houses.
- Liaison with Leaders and Whips of various Parties and Groups represented in Parliament.
- Appointment of Members of Parliament on Committees and other bodies set up by Government.
- Functioning of Consultative Committees of Members of Parliament for various Ministries.
- Secretarial assistance to the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs.
- Advice to Ministries on procedural and other Parliamentary matters.
- Coordination of action by Ministries on recommendations of general application made by Parliamentary Committees.
- Matters connected with powers, privileges and immunities of Members of Parliament.
- Department of the Senate (February 2013). "Ministers in the Senate - Senate Brief No. 14". Australian Parliament House. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
- Keating, Paul (24 March 1993), Statement by the Prime Minister, archived from the original on 25 February 2014
- "Our Structure". Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs". Retrieved 13 April 2012.