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The Great Offices of State in the United Kingdommarker are the four most senior and prestigious posts in the British parliamentary system of government. They are the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary. Since 5 June 2009, these posts are held by Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, David Miliband and Alan Johnson respectively. According to convention, when the Prime Minister names his or her Cabinet, either after a general election or mid-term reshuffle, the first announced Cabinet ministers will be the Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary, and usually in that order.

James Callaghan is the only person to date to have served in all four positions. In the past hundred years, several other people came close to approaching this distinction: Herbert Henry Asquith and Winston Churchill both served as Chancellor, Prime Minister and Home Secretary while Harold Macmillan and John Major served as Prime Minister, Chancellor and Foreign Secretary. Rab Butler and Sir John Simon served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

Commons-only nature in modern times

Because of how politics in the United Kingdom is structured, with the House of Commonsmarker retaining most of the power, it is accepted that it is no longer practical for one of the holders of the Great Offices of State to be a member of the House of Lordsmarker. The House of Lords has traditionally been restrained in the passage of financial bills, meaning that the office of Chancellor is effectively limited to the House of Commons. The last holders of the other positions to have been peers were:

  • Prime Minister: The Earl of Home (20–23 October 1963): The Earl of Home renounced his peerage and was elected as an MP after his appointment as Prime Minister. The last holder to remain a peer throughout his term as Prime Minister was the Marquess of Salisbury (25 June 1895-11 July 1902).
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer: The Lord Denman (14 November–15 December 1834): Denman only held the post on an interim basis, as did the peer before him, The Lord Tenterden (8 August–3 September 1827); the last peer to hold the office substantively was The Viscount Barrington (1761–1762).
  • Foreign Secretary: The Lord Carrington (5 May 1979–5 April 1982): The Lord Carrington is the most recent peer to hold one of the Great Offices of State.
  • Home Secretary: The Viscount Cave (11 December 1916–14 January 1919): Sir George Cave was ennobled as The Viscount Cave while serving as Home Secretary in 1918.


Women

Only three women have held any of the Great Offices of State:

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

In 2007, many of the functions of the Home Office were transferred to the joint posts of Lord High Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs; the latter of these was renamed to be Secretary of State for Justice. For centuries until 2007, the post of Lord Chancellor had only been held by a members of the House of Lords. Following the reshuffle in 2007, on Gordon Brown's becoming Prime Minister, it was announced that in future the Secretary of State for Justice (and therefore also the Lord Chancellor) would be chosen from the Commons. Jack Straw, the Lord Chancellor and first Justice Secretary, appeared to make reference to the fact that this new post, previously held by a member of the House of Lordsmarker, could be considered a fifth Great Office, saying that he was "the first holder of this great office of state to sit in the Commons." However, there is as yet no consensus in favour of such a view amongst constitutional analysts.

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