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The Lord President of the Council is the fourth of the Great Officers of State of the United Kingdommarker, ranking beneath the Lord High Treasurer and above the Lord Privy Seal. The Lord President has the responsibility of presiding over meetings of the Privy Council. In the modern era, the holder is by convention always a member of one of the houses of Parliamentmarker and the office is a cabinet post.

The office and its history

The Privy Council meets once a month, wherever the Sovereign may be residing at the time, to give formal approval to Orders-in-Council. Only a few privy counsellors need attend such meetings, and only when invited to do so at the Government's request. As the duties of the Lord President are not onerous, the post has often been given to a government minister whose responsibilities are not department-specific. In recent years it has been most usual for the Lord President to also serve as Leader of the House of Commons. Between 2003 and 2009 the office was combined with that of Leader of the House of Lords.

The current Lord President is Lord Mandelson, who is also First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. This is the first time that the Lord President has not been a leader of one of the Houses since the period 20 October 1963 to 16 October 1964, wherein Lord Hailsham, after resigning as Leader of the House of Lords, kept the office along with the offices of Minister for Sport and, from 1 April 1964, also of Secretary of State for Education and Science.

On several occasions non-British Ministers have served briefly as acting Lords President of the Council, solely to preside over a meeting of the Privy Council held in a Commonwealth realm. Examples of this practice are the meetings in New Zealandmarker in 1990 and 1995, when Sir Geoffrey Palmer and James Bolger respectively were acting Lord Presidents.

In the 19th century, the Lord President was generally the cabinet member responsible for the educational system amongst their other duties. This role was gradually scaled back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but remnants of it remain, such as the oversight of the governance of various universities.

A particularly vital role was played by the Lord President of the Council during the Second World War. The Lord President served as chairman of the Lord President's Committee. This committee acted as a central clearing house for dealing with economic problems that affected the country. As such, it was vital to the smooth running of the British war economy and consequently the entire British war effort.

Winston Churchill, clearly believing that this wartime co-ordinating role was beneficial, introduced a similar but expanded system in the first few years of his post-war premiership. The so-called 'overlord ministers' included Lord Leathers as 'Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power' and Lord Woolton as Lord President. Woolton's job was to co-ordinate the then separate ministries of agriculture and food. The historian Peter Hennessy quotes a PhD thesis by Michael Kandiah saying that Woolton was 'arguably the most successful of the Overlords' partly because his ministries were quite closely related, indeed they were merged in 1955 as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The Lord President has no role in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Councilmarker.

Visitorial role

The Lord President also serves as the Visitor for several British universities including:

Partial list of office holders



Since 1678

See also


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