A parliamentary secretary is a member of Parliament in the Westminster system who assists a more senior minister with their duties. In several countries, the position has been re-designated as assistant minister.
In the parliamentary systems of several Commonwealth countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India and Singapore, it is customary for the prime minister to appoint parliamentary secretaries from their political party in parliament to assist cabinet ministers with their work. The role of parliamentary secretaries varies under different prime ministers. The post has often served as a training ground for future ministers.
In the United Kingdom
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.
In the Commonwealth
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." On 20 September 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the title 'Parliamentary Secretary' is to be re-designated as 'Assistant Minister'.
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.
The position titled Parliamentary Under-Secretary is established by the Constitution Act 1986. Unlike ministers in the New Zealand Government, parliamentary under-secretaries are not members of the Executive Council.
New Zealand also has Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
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Outside the Commonwealth
A Parliamentary State Secretary (Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär, PStS) is a member of the Bundestag given a portfolio to assist a Minister with running a government ministry. The position is roughly analogous to deputy ministers.
In 2021, there are 36 parliamentary state secretaries in the Merkel IV Cabinet. The position was first introduced in 1967 to help younger politicians gain experience for future ministerial roles.
In the Irish Free State, the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 created the post of Parliamentary Secretary, originally limited to seven holders. In 1978, the office was superseded in Ireland by the office of Minister of State.
- 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.
- Constitution Act 1986, 13 December 1986, pp. 6–7, retrieved 3 November 2020
- Langenbacher, Eric; Conradt, David P. The German Polity (11th ed.). New York: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 272.
- "Die Finanzierung der Parlamentarischen Staatssekretäre – Die wichtigsten Fakten". Bund der Steuerzahler Deutschland.