Secretary of State for Defence

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United Kingdom
Secretary of State for Defence
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Flag of the British Secretary of State for Defence.svg
Secretary of State Michael Fallon.jpg
Michael Fallon

since 15 July 2014
Ministry of Defence
Style The Right Honourable
Mr. Secretary or Name
Member of British Cabinet
Privy Council
National Security Council
Defence Council
Admiralty Board
Army Board
Air Force Board
Reports to The Prime Minister
Seat Westminster, London
Appointer The British Monarch
on advice of the Prime Minister
Term length No fixed term
Formation 1 April 1964
First holder Peter Thorneycroft
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
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Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Defence (Defence Secretary) is an official within Her Majesty's Government and head of the Ministry of Defence. The office is a British Cabinet level position.

The post was created in 1964 as successor to the posts of Minister for Coordination of Defence (1936–1940) and Minister of Defence (1940–1964). It replaced the positions of First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Air, as the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry were merged into the Ministry of Defence (the Secretary of State for War had already ceased to be a cabinet position in 1946, with the creation of the cabinet level Minister of Defence).

Office holders

Minister for Co-ordination of Defence (1936–1940)

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

The position was established by Prime Minister Baldwin in response to criticism that Britain's armed forces were understrength compared to those of Nazi Germany. This campaign had been led by Winston Churchill 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 60px 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)

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 Cabinet 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 60px 20 December 1946 28 February 1950 Labour Co-op
Emanuel Shinwell 60px 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
HarolAlexanderD 026065.jpg 1 March 1952 18 October 1954 none
Harold Macmillan Harold Macmillan number 10 official.jpg 18 October 1954 7 April 1955 Conservative
Selwyn Lloyd 60px 7 April 1955 20 December 1955 Conservative Sir Anthony Eden
Sir Walter Monckton 60px 20 December 1955 18 October 1956 Conservative
Antony Head No image.svg 18 October 1956 9 January 1957 Conservative
Duncan Sandys Duncan Sandys 1975.png 13 January 1957 14 October 1959 Conservative Harold Macmillan
Harold Watkinson No image.svg 14 October 1959 13 July 1962 Conservative
Peter Thorneycroft 60px 13 July 1962 1 April 1964 Conservative
Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Secretaries of State for Defence (1964–present)

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 File:Peter Thorneycroft cropped.png 1 April 1964 16 October 1964 Conservative Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Denis Healey Denis Healey.jpg 16 October 1964 19 June 1970 Labour Harold Wilson
The Lord Carrington 60px 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
Fred Mulley Fred Mulley.PNG 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 60px 6 January 1983 7 January 1986 Conservative
George Younger George Younger.JPEG 7 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 070114-D-7203T-010.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 60px 11 May 2010 14 October 2011 Conservative David Cameron
Philip Hammond Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence.jpg 14 October 2011 15 July 2014 Conservative
Michael Fallon Secretary of State Michael Fallon.jpg 15 July 2014 Incumbent Conservative
David Cameron


  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.

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