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Secretary of State for Defence
Appointed by The Monarch
Incumbent Philip Hammond
Personal details
Website www.gov.uk/mod

The Secretary of State for Defence, also referred to as the Defence Secretary, is the senior Government of the United Kingdom minister in charge of the Ministry of Defence, chairing the Defence Council. It is a position. The position was created in 1964 as successor to the posts of Minister for Coordination of Defence (1936–1940) and Minister of Defence (1940–1964).

Office holders[edit | edit source]

Minister for Co-ordination of Defence (1936–1940)[edit | edit source]

The position of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence was a -level position established in 1936 to oversee and co-ordinate the rearmament of Britain's defences.

The position was established by Prime Minister in response to criticism that Britain's armed forces were understrength compared to those of Nazi Germany. This campaign had been led by Winston Churchil and many expected him to be appointed as the new minister, though nearly every other senior figure in the National Government was also speculated upon by politicians and commentators. Despite this, Baldwin's choice of the Attorney General Sir Thomas Inskip provoked widespread astonishment. A famous comment made in response to Inskip's appointment was "This is the most cynical appointment since Caligula made his horse a consul".[1] The appointment is now regarded as a sign of caution by Baldwin who did not wish to appoint someone like Churchill who would have been interpreted by foreign powers as a sign of the United Kingdom preparing for war, as well as a desire to avoid taking on board a controversial and radical minister.

In 1939 Inskip was succeeded by First Sea Lord Lord Chatfield. When the Second World War broke out, the new Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain formed a small War Cabinet and it was expected that Chatfield 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 Chatfield's role proved increasingly redundant. In April 1940 the position was formally wound up and the functions transferred to other Ministers.

Colour key (for political parties):
      Conservative       none

Name Portrait Term of office Political party Prime Minister
Sir Thomas Inskip Thomas Inskip.jpg 13 March 1936 29 January 1939 Conservative Stanley Baldwin
(3rd National Min.)
Neville Chamberlain
(4th National Min.;
War Coalition)
The Lord Chatfield Echatfield.jpg 29 January 1939 3 April 1940 none

Ministers of Defence (1940–1964)[edit | edit source]

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 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.

Colour key (for political parties):
      Conservative       Labour       Labour Co-op       none

Name Portrait Term of office Political party Prime Minister
Winston Churchill Churchill1944.png 10 May 1940 27 July 1945 Conservative Winston Churchill
(War Coalition)
Clement Attlee Attlee BW cropped.jpg 27 July 1945 20 December 1946 Labour Clement Attlee
A. V. Alexander INF3-62 A V Alexander Artist's signature E A B.jpg 20 December 1946 28 February 1950 Labour Co-op
Emanuel Shinwell Manny Shinwell 1.jpg 28 February 1950 26 October 1951 Labour
Winston Churchill Churchill portrait NYP 45063.jpg 28 October 1951 1 March 1952 Conservative Sir Winston Churchill
The Earl Alexander
of Tunis
Sir Harold Alexander 026065.jpg 1 March 1952 18 October 1954 none
Harold Macmillan 60px 18 October 1954 7 April 1955 Conservative
Selwyn Lloyd Selwyn Lloyd cropped.jpg 7 April 1955 20 December 1955 Conservative Sir Anthony Eden
Sir Walter Monckton Walter Monckton cropped.png 20 December 1955 18 October 1956 Conservative
Antony Head No image.svg 18 October 1956 9 January 1957 Conservative
Duncan Sandys Sandys 1944 cropped.jpg 13 January 1957 14 October 1959 Conservative Harold Macmillan
Harold Watkinson No image.svg 14 October 1959 13 July 1962 Conservative
Peter Thorneycroft Peter Thorneycroft cropped.png 13 July 1962 1 April 1964 Conservative
Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Secretaries of State for Defence (1964–present)[edit | edit source]

The post of Secretary of State for Defence was created on 1 April 1964. The former Cabinet positions of First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air (responsible for the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force respectively) were incorporated into it and the offices of the Admiralty, War Office and the Air Ministry were abolished and their functions transferred to an expanded Ministry of Defence.

Colour key (for political parties):
      Conservative       Labour

Name Portrait Term of office Political party Prime Minister
Peter Thorneycroft Peter Thorneycroft cropped.png 1 April 1964 16 October 1964 Conservative Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Denis Healey Denis Healey Davos.jpg 16 October 1964 19 June 1970 Labour Harold Wilson
The Lord Carrington Peter, 6th Baron Carrington cropped.JPG 20 June 1970 8 January 1974 Conservative Edward Heath
Ian Gilmour No image.svg 8 January 1974 4 March 1974 Conservative
Roy Mason No image.svg 5 March 1974 10 September 1976 Labour Harold Wilson
Frederick Mulley No image.svg 10 September 1976 4 May 1979 Labour James Callaghan
Francis Pym 60px 5 May 1979 5 January 1981 Conservative Margaret Thatcher
John Nott No image.svg 5 January 1981 6 January 1983 Conservative
Michael Heseltine Lord Heseltine2.jpg 6 January 1983 7 January 1986 Conservative
George Younger George Younger.JPEG 9 January 1986 24 July 1989 Conservative
Tom King No image.svg 24 July 1989 10 April 1992 Conservative
John Major
Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind.jpg 10 April 1992 5 July 1995 Conservative
Michael Portillo Michael Portillo by Regents College cropped.jpg 5 July 1995 2 May 1997 Conservative
George Robertson George Robertson.jpg 3 May 1997 11 October 1999 Labour Tony Blair
Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Headshot.jpg 11 October 1999 6 May 2005 Labour
John Reid JohnReidHeadshot.jpg 6 May 2005 5 May 2006 Labour
Des Browne Des Browne MP.jpg 5 May 2006 3 October 2008 Labour
Gordon Brown
John Hutton Msc 2009-Sunday, 11.00 - 12.30 Uhr-Zwez 005 Hutton detail.jpg 3 October 2008 5 June 2009 Labour
Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth cropped.jpg 5 June 2009 11 May 2010 Labour
Liam Fox Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP (4799289920).jpg 11 May 2010 14 October 2011 Conservative David Cameron
Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Phillip Hammond MP MOD 45153293.jpg 14 October 2011 Incumbent Conservative

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

The fictional Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Lee, was a minor character in Abigail Gibbs' acclaimed novel The Dark Heroine (series).

References[edit | edit source]

  1. This quote has been made on many occasions and the original source is unclear. The highly influential polemic Guilty Men (whose relevant chapter is entitled "Caligula's Horse") attributes it to a "great statesman" (page 74), whom some have surmised was Churchill. However Stewart, Graham Burying Caesar: Churchill, Chamberlain and the Battle for the Tory Party (London; Phoenix, 1999) (ISBN 0-7538-1060-3), page 487 attributes the originator of the quote to Churchill's non-politician friend Professor Frederick Lindemann.

External links[edit | edit source]

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