Parliamentary Private Secretary
A Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) is a United Kingdom or New Zealand Member of Parliament (MP) designated by a senior minister in government or shadow minister to act as the minister's contact with MPs. This role is junior to that of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, which is a ministerial post, salaried by one or more departments.
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Duties and powers of a PPS
Although not paid other than their salary as an MP, PPSs help the government to track backbench opinion in Parliament. They are subject to some restrictions as outlined in the Ministerial Code of the British government.
A PPS can sit on Select Committees but must avoid "associating themselves with recommendations critical of, or embarrassing to the Government", and must not make statements or ask questions on matters affecting the minister's department. In particular, the PPS in the Department for Communities and Local Government may not participate in planning decisions or in the consideration of planning cases.
PPSs are not members of the government, and all efforts are made to avoid these positions being referred to as such. They are instead considered more simply as normal Members. However, their close confidence with ministers does impose obligations on every PPS. The guidelines surrounding the divulging of information to PPSs are rigid.
Ministers choose their own PPSs, but they are expected to consult the Chief Whip and must seek the written approval for each candidate from the Prime Minister.
Although not on the government payroll, PPSs are expected to act as part of the payroll vote, voting in line with the government on every division, and are regarded as members of the government for purposes of cabinet collective responsibility. Similarly, a PPS must not appear as a representative for any special policies.
When on official Departmental business, a PPS receives travel and subsistence allowance paid out of government funds, as with formal members of the government. This makes the PPS the only type of unpaid advisor who receives reimbursement in the course of duty.
A PPS may stand in for the minister at an event as a last resort when the minister cannot appear. This can only happen in exceptional circumstances and must be justified by the minister. If this event is overseas, the substitution also requires the Prime Minister's consent.
While not technically part of the government, a PPS is still bound to Collective Ministerial Responsibility and therefore must resign if speaking against government policy.
The role in the career of MPs
The role of PPS is seen as a starting point for many MPs who are looking to become ministers themselves. According to Philip W. Buck, a professor of political science at Stanford University:
Nine-tenths of the M.P.s who first won seats in the House of Commons in 1918 or thereafter, and who held some ministerial office in the years from 1918 to 1955, began their progress towards posts in a ministry or a Cabinet by serving as parliamentary secretaries or as junior ministers... Recruitment to the front bench clearly begins with these two offices.
A Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) is a thankless job. Despite having risen to the rank of MP, those with Governmental ambitions will need to pay their dues once more – as a bag carrier. Admittedly, PPS is a bit more than that – you are supposed to be the eyes and ears, reporting back to your boss all the gossip, what people are saying about your work in the bars and cafes of Westminster.
Notable Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister
- Alec Douglas-Home, Lord Dunglass: to Neville Chamberlain, 1937–1940
- Brendan Bracken: to Winston Churchill, 1940–1941
- Christopher Soames: to Winston Churchill, 1952–1955
- Robert Carr: to Sir Anthony Eden, 1955
- Anthony Barber: to Harold Macmillan, 1957–1959
- Peter Shore: to Harold Wilson, 1965–1966
- Timothy Kitson: to Edward Heath, 1970–1974
- Ian Gow: to Margaret Thatcher, 1979–1983
- Peter Morrison: to Margaret Thatcher, 1988–1990
- Graham Bright: to John Major, 1990–1994
- Gavin Williamson: to David Cameron, 2013–2016
- George Hollingbery: to Theresa May, 2016–2017
- Seema Kennedy: to Theresa May, 2017–2019
- Andrew Bowie: to Theresa May, 2019-2019
- Alex Burghart: to Boris Johnson, since July 2019
While giving the holder a close-up view of the workings of government at the highest levels, relatively few Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister seem to have gone on to serve at the highest level of government themselves, although Sir Alec Douglas-Home served as Prime Minister in 1963-4, while Anthony Barber was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1970 to 1974, Robert Carr, Home Secretary, 1972-4, and Christopher Soames, Peter Shore, and Gavin Williamson, the current Secretary of State for Education, all went on to be senior Cabinet ministers.
- "Parliamentary Private Secretary". Explore Parliament. 2007-03-28. Archived from the original on 2007-06-26.
- "Ministerial Code" (PDF). gov.uk. December 2016. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
- The Ministerial Code §3.10.
- Ministerial Code §3.12.
- "Guidance on propriety issues in handling planning casework in Communities and Local Government". Communities and Local Government. 2007-03-28. Archived from the original on 2007-02-05.
- The Ministerial Code §3.8.
- The Ministerial Code §3.6.
- The Ministerial Code §3.9.
- The Ministerial Code §3.11.
- "Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs)". bbc online. 2007-03-28.
- Buck, Philip W. (1963). "The Early Start toward Cabinet Office, 1918–55". The Western Political Quarterly. 16 (3): 624–632. doi:10.2307/444766. JSTOR 444766.
- "Monday, July 10, 2006". Thirsk and Malton Constituency Labour Party Blog. 2007-03-28.