What should we expect of Ministers? What are they meant to do and what do they do? Today I wish to set out a little more detail on a typical Ministerial job description, trying to explain why we have 3 different levels of Minister. It should be born in mind that most Ministers are also MPs who still have to do most of their MP duties, so being a Minister is a demanding and time consuming second job. Their Parliamentary activities can be more time consuming than a typical backbenchers, but are all related to their Ministerial job and are timetabled for them.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (PUSS)
A PUSS or junior Minister is often the Ministerial assistant to a senior Minister of State with a large command, or for the Secretary of State in a smaller department.
Parliament – Adjournment Debates answering one MP or a few MPs with specific cases or detailed queries on policy and the conduct of the department.
Handling many of the Committee stages of Bills and maybe some of the Report stage on the floor of the House
Case work for the department, dealing with many routine cases that need Ministerial oversight – explaining the department’s policy to others, handling complaints, adjudicating some conflicts
Advising the Minister of State on policy and matters relating to the Department based on case work/ meetings/ contacts
Working with officials to ensure smooth running of the interface of government with MPs, the public and interest groups.
Ministerial visits to see the operations of the Department and issues/ people on the ground
Briefing and appearing in some technical and specialist press and regional media explaining departmental policy
Handling consultations and other meetings with lobbyists/Councils/MPs and reporting to the Minister of State
Handling some specialist Parliamentary Questions in his or her area.
Some of the senior PUSS ranked jobs like Economic Secretary to the Treasury have their own courtesy titles and some delegated responsiblities.
Minister of State
May have a courtesy title (Minister of Housing/Minister of Health/Minister of Local Government) for his or her quite large command
Responsible under the Secretary of State for the day to day running of the command. Influential in detailed policy development. May have substantial delegated authority under the Secretary of State to make decisions.
Chairs departmental meetings of officials and with outside interests to progress the work of the department.
Takes responsibility for all stages of many Bills and may make the speeches on 2nd and 3rd Reading. Will probably do the most difficult clauses in Committee/on report to relieve the PUSS.
Answers Parliamentary questions on his or her area of interest.
Makes Ministerial visits, handles substantial media on his or her specialist subject.
Reviews difficult cases, adjudicates disputes within the department and between the department and others. May belong to junior Cabinet committees for agreeing cross departmental policy and approaches.
May act as the representative or envoy of the Secretary of State to sort out a given problem.
Secretary of State
Ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in the Department he or she leads, save for those financial, personnel and regularity issues which are the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary, the top official running the department.
May leave all the Parliamentary work on new laws to his junior Ministers, but would be expected to make big speeches on 2nd reading of major contentious Bills and handle any really sensitive and hig profile issue that takes place on the floor of the Commons.
May leave most casework to Juniors, but would be asked to decide in big cases involving high political risk or high risk to the department.
Has to attend Cabinet and Cabinet committees, represent the department to the rest of the government and help form general government policy.
Handles the major interviews and media enquiries, particularly where the interview is national and likely to wander into general government policy.
Has his or her own pattern of visits.
Chairs important working meetings of officials, junior Ministers and outside interests.
May chair a daily or weekly departmental meeting of Ministers with or without senior officials to provide a general sense of direction and oversight.
Can help the Permanent Secretary run the department and can control its policy (subject to the EU, official views, legal position etc), or may work collaboratively with senior Ministers of State who do more of this for the S of S. May delegate much of implementation and day to day running to officials, or may take a personal interest in administration and implementation.