Cabinet Secretary

Cabinet Secretary

A Cabinet Secretary is almost always a senior official (almost always a civil servant) who provides services and advice to a Cabinet of Ministers. In many countries, the position can have considerably wider functions and powers, including general responsibility for the entire civil service. Most countries with Cabinet Secretaries take the British position as a model.

The title of Cabinet Secretary may also be used as an alternative term for a cabinet minister, usually a political appointee, in Japan, Scotland and the United States.


In Australia, the equivalent position is the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, although both the Department and its secretary have wider responsibilities than in most other governments derived from the Westminster System.


In Canada, the equivalent position is the Clerk of the Privy Council, who functions as Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister of Canada and heads the Privy Council Office. Canada's provinces and territories also have equivalent officials as the head of their respective public services, as in the list below:
* Ontario: Secretary of the Cabinet, Clerk of the Executive Committee and Head of the Ontario Public Service.
* Québec: Secrétaire général du Conseil exécutif (Secretary General of the Executive Council)
* Nova Scotia: the head of the civil service is the Clerk of the Executive Council, while the Secretary to the Cabinet is a separate position.
* New Brunswick: Clerk of the Executive Council and Secretary to Cabinet
* Prince Edward Island: the head of the civil service is the Clerk of the Executive Council, while the Premier's Principal Secretary advises the Premier and Cabinet on matters of policy and strategy
* Newfoundland and Labrador: Clerk of the Executive Council and Secretary to the Cabinet
* Saskatchewan: Deputy Minister to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary
* Alberta: Deputy Minister of Executive Council and Secretary to the Cabinet
* British Columbia: Deputy Minister to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary
* Yukon: Cabinet Secretary and Deputy Minister of the Executive Council Office
* Northwest Territories: Secretary to the Cabinet
* Nunavut: Secretary to Cabinet


The Cabinet Secretariat is under the direct charge of the Prime Minister. The administrative head of the Secretariat is the Cabinet Secretary who is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Civil Services Board, and thus the head of the Indian Administrative Service.

In practical terms though, the Cabinet Secretary is the head of all the civil services under the constitution. Thus, he is the head of all the premier services including the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS).

The Cabinet Secretary is in theoretical and practical terms, the most senior IAS officer in the country, and is appointed by the Prime Minister of India just before his retirement, for a minimum period of two years. His tenure however, can be extended.

The Cabinet Secretary ranks eleventh in the Table of Precedence of India.

The current Cabinet Secretary is Mr. K.M.Chandrasekhar, a Kerala cadre IAS officer of the 1970 batch.

In the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 "Cabinet Secretariat" finds a place in the First Schedule to the Rules. The subjects allotted to this Secretariat are, firstly, secretarial assistance to Cabinet and Cabinet Committees, and secondly, the administration of the Rules of Business.

The Cabinet Secretariat is responsible for the administration of the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961 and the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961, facilitating smooth transaction of business in Ministries/Departments of the Government by ensuring adherence to these rules. The Secretariat assists in decision-making in Government by ensuring Inter-Ministerial coordination, ironing out differences amongst Ministries/Departments and evolving consensus through the instrumentality of the standing/adhoc Committees of Secretaries. Through this mechanism new policy initiatives are also promoted.

The Cabinet Secretariat ensures that the President of India, the Vice-President and Ministers are kept informed of the major activities of all Departments by means of a monthly summary of their activities. Management of major crisis situations in the country and coordinating activities of the various Ministries in such a situation is also one of the functions of the Cabinet Secretariat.


In the Republic of Ireland, the position of Cabinet Secretary is officially titled Secretary-General to the Government (previously titled "Secretary to the Government"), and is also Secretary-General of the Department of the Taoiseach, somewhat analogous to the Cabinet Office in the United Kingdom. This department provides the secretariat to the Cabinet and co-ordinates the Government Press Office. It also has some policy functions with regard to key areas such as Northern Ireland, economic policy, and public service modernisation. The role is modeled on, and is broadly similar to the UK equivalent, though in recent times has become more constrained by the seven year time limit placed on Secretaries General in the mid-1990s following the introduction of the Strategic Management Initiative.


In Israel, the Cabinet Secretary (also called the Government Secretary) heads an office responsible for preparing the agenda of cabinet meetings and facilitating communication between ministers. The Secretariat is also responsible for presenting government-initiated bills to the Knesset and for conducting certain press briefings. The Secretary is appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, with the current Secretary being Israel Maimon.


In Japan, the office of Chief Cabinet Secretary has been made into a ministerial post, being held by a member of the House of Representatives. This is unusual, as most countries give the position to a civil servant. The Chief Cabinet Secretary performs much the same role as other Cabinet Secretaries, however — he or she is responsible for overseeing the administrative operations of Cabinet, and presiding over the Cabinet Secretariat. The post has the added function of being the government's chief press secretary.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Cabinet Secretary is part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which provides assistance, coordination, and advice. The Cabinet Secretary also serves as Clerk of the Executive Council, the formal body on which Cabinet rests. The office of Cabinet Secretary is somewhat anomalous, by New Zealand standards, in that it is partly autonomous from the department to which it belongs. The role does not, however, have the broad powers given to its British equivalent — for example, authority over the civil service is held by the State Services Commissioner, a separate official.

United Kingdom

In the UK Government, the Cabinet Secretary, or more formally Secretary of the Cabinet, is the senior civil servant in charge of the Cabinet Office, the government department that provides administrative support to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the government as a whole. The Prime Minister appoints the Cabinet Secretary with the advice of the retiring Cabinet Secretary and the First Civil Service Commissioner. []

Since 1981 the position of Cabinet Secretary has been combined with the Head of the Home Civil Service, and in this role is responsible for all the civil servants of the various departments within government. In this role the Cabinet Secretary chairs the Permanent Secretaries Management Group (PSMG) which is the principle governing body of the civil service.

The responsibilities of the job vary from time to time and depend very much on the personal qualities of both the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary of the day. In most cases the true influence of the Cabinet Secretary extends far beyond administrative matters, and reaches to the very heart of the decision making process. For instance, the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for administering the Ministerial Code which governs the conduct of ministers (also known as "the Rule Book" and formerly "Questions of Procedure for Ministers"). In this duty the Cabinet Secretary may be asked to investigate "leaks" within government, and enforce cabinet discipline. Unusually in a democracy, this gives the unelected Cabinet Secretary some authority over elected ministers (a situation satirised in the BBC sitcom "Yes, Prime Minister"), although the constitutional authority of the Code is somewhat ambiguous.

The Cabinet Secretary also has some responsibility for overseeing the intelligence services and their relationship to the government. In Tony Blair's government, this responsibility was delegated to a Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator and Permanent Secretary, Sir David Omand, while the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, was asked to prioritize civil service reforms, including the expansion of e-government.


Following the 2007 General Election of the devolved Scottish Parliament, the new First Minister Alex Salmond restyled the Scottish Executive for his Scottish National Party (SNP) administration: The commonly-used term Scottish Government replaced the official legal term Scottish Executive in its own use, while members of the cabinet were retitled Cabinet Secretaries rather than Ministers, with sub-cabinet members being restyled Ministers rather than Deputy-Ministers.main|List of Scottish Executive ministerial teams

ecretaries of the Cabinet

The position was created in 1919 and combined with that of Head of the Home Civil Service in 1981. The holder retires at or slightly after the Civil Service retirement age of 60 and is now customarily created a life peer on retirement.
* Colonel Maurice Hankey, later 1st Baron Hankey 1916-1938
* Sir Edward Bridges, later 1st Baron Bridges 1938-1946
* Sir Norman Brook, later 1st Baron Normanbrook 1947-1962
* Sir Burke Trend, later Baron Trend (1963-1973)
* Sir John Hunt, later Baron Hunt of Tanworth (1973-1979)
* Sir Robert Armstrong, now Baron Armstrong of Ilminster (1979-1988)
* Sir Robin Butler, now Baron Butler of Brockwell (1988-1998)
* Sir Richard Wilson, now Baron Wilson of Dinton (1998-2002)
* Sir Andrew Turnbull, now Baron Turnbull of Enfield (2002-2005)
* Sir Gus O'Donnell (2005-)

Additional Secretaries of the Cabinet

* General Sir Hastings Ismay 1945 (Military)
* Sir Norman Brook 1945-1947 (Civil)

United States

In the United States, "Cabinet Secretary" can sometimes be used to refer to the head of an executive department, as these people are titled Secretary (eg Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, etc.) are members of the United States Cabinet. This usage is not official, and differs from the use in other countries.

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