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A minister is any holder of a specific office in the Government. Not all MPs, whether of the political party that currently holds office in government or not, will be ministers. Similarly, it is not absolutely necessary that ministers be MPs (but see Constitutional convention) but most are.

Ministers are of various 'ranks', but the responsibilities and status of the ranks are not always clear.

  • The Prime minister has, of course, the highest status.
  • A Cabinet ministerhas the next highest status, and is one of the 20 or so most senior officials of the Government.
  • Full ministers who are not members of the Cabinet, and who may have departmental responsibilities.
  • Parliamentary secretaries, who may have some administrative responsibilities in a department.

As an example of overlap of ranks, the Law Officers of the Crown (see: Law officer) are considered to be senior appointments, of 'cabinet rank', but they are not actually cabinet ministers.

The ministerial offices are allocated 'by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime minister' which means, in effect, that they are in the gift of the Prime Minister and are therefore political appointments. This applies, contraversially, to the office of Lord chancellor, who is also head of the Judiciary.

Because ministerial posts are created by Prerogative there is, in principle, no limit to the creation of new ministerial posts. However, there are statutory limits on the number of MPs, and it is generally desirable that ministers be MPs. In addition, there are statutory restrictions on the payment of salaries to ministers who are members of the House of commons. This means, indirectly, that some ministers will have to be drawn from the House of lords House of lords.