This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper sets out the role of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, including their functions and the limitations placed on them.Jump to full report >>
A Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) is an unpaid assistant to a Minister, selected from backbench MPs to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Minister in the House of Commons. They often advise the Minister on the state of parliamentary or party opinion, and act as a two-way channel of communication between the Minister and backbench MPs.
PPSs are not regarded as a member of the Government, and they cannot speak in Parliament on behalf of the Government from the front bench. By convention, PPSs sit on the bench behind the treasury bench.
The Ministerial Code states that PPSs are expected to support the Government of the day, including voting with the Government in divisions. Any PPS who does not vote with the Government cannot retain his or her position.
Although PPSs are not members of the Government, they are closely associated with it. As a result, there are certain restrictions on their involvement in certain parliamentary proceedings.
The Ministerial Code places restrictions on PPSs involvement in select committees inquiries into their Minister’s department.The Code states that although PPSs are not prevented from serving on select committees, they should withdraw from any involvement with inquiries into their appointing Minister’s department. PPSs should also “avoid associating themselves with recommendations critical of or embarrassing to the Government”.
According to the Ministerial Code, PPSs must not make statements in the House nor put Questions on matters affecting the department with which they are concerned. They should also “exercise discretion in any statements outside the House”.
While a PPS is an unpaid job, they are still considered part of the overall payroll vote - that is, those MPs who can be relied upon absolutely by the Government to vote in support of their policies.
There have been calls to limit the number of PPSs. Most recently, in 2011 the Public Administration Select Committee recommended that PPSs should be limited to one per Secretary of State.
Commons Briefing papers SN04942
Authors: Michael Everett; Lucinda Maer