The ministerial ranking is said by Peter Hennessy to be decided by the Prime Minister alone and reportedly by the Cabinet Office Precedent Book as being wholly decided by the Prime Minister, "guided partly by tradition and partly by political and personal considerations". In his autobiography David Cameron said that it "...combines seniority of post and the length of time as a cabinet minister to determine the rank of everyone present".
The Cabinet Manual states that when the Prime Minister is unable to attend Cabinet, or the chair and any deputy chair of a Cabinet committee are absent, the next most senior minister in the ministerial ranking should take the chair.
One constitutional law academic, Rodney Brazier, has suggested that if the Prime Minister were to die suddenly, the monarch could ask the Deputy Prime Minister, or if there was no such person available, the next most senior MP in the ministerial ranking to take temporary charge of the government.
Hennessy says that it "...matters more than one thinks in establishing the power of a Prime Minister in relation to his most senior colleagues" and Harold Wilson has been noted to be one Prime Minister to take the ranking seriously. It has been noted that it was through the ministerial ranking rather than being First Secretary that George Brown was able to exercise "...deputising duties". It has also been said that, upon his 1995 appointment as Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary, Michael Heseltine also insisted that he became number two on the ministerial ranking.
However, David Cameron has stated that it was "something we had never bothered with" and Harold Macmillan has reportedly said that he would have preferred an order based on the traditional dignity of offices, deeming it "all rather nonsense".
Additionally, in April 2020, when Boris Johnson was moved into intensive care with COVID-19, a government press released stated that he had asked First Secretary of State Dominic Raab "to deputise for him where necessary", but the ministerial ranking on the parliament.uk website around the time showed Rishi Sunak technically ranking above Raab.
The Current ministerial ranking
- Hennessy, Peter (2000). The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders Since 1945. Penguin Group. p. 63. ISBN 0713993405.
- Thornton, Stephen; Kirkup, Jonathan (14 June 2021). "From Rab to Raab: The Construction of the Office of First Secretary of State". Parliamentary Affairs. 2021:0: 11. doi:10.1093/pa/gsab038.
- Cameron, David (2019). For the Record. William Collins. p. 656. ISBN 9780008239305.
- The Cabinet Manual 2011, p. 35.
- Brazier, Rodney (2020). Choosing a Prime Minister: the Transfer of Power in Britain. Oxford University Press. p. 87. ISBN 9780198859291.
- Thornton, Stephen; Kirkup, Jonathan (14 June 2021). "From Rab to Raab: The Construction of the Office of First Secretary of State". Parliamentary Affairs. 2021:0: 13. doi:10.1093/pa/gsab038.
- "Statement from Downing Street: 6 April 2020". GOV.UK. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
- "Her Majesty's Government: The Cabinet". 21 April 2020. Archived from the original on 21 April 2020. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
- "Her Majesty's Government: The Cabinet". parliament.uk. Retrieved 9 August 2021.
- "Ministers". gov.uk. Retrieved 9 August 2021.
- "FOI2021 04049 Response submisison.docx". www.whatdotheyknow.com. 23 February 2021. Retrieved 9 August 2021.