In the parliamentary systems of several Commonwealth countries, such as Canada and Australia, it is customary for the prime minister to appoint parliamentary secretaries (in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, "parliamentary assistants") from their caucus to assist cabinet ministers with their work. The role of parliamentary secretaries has varied under different prime ministers. Originally, the post was used as a training ground for future ministers. The position of parliamentary secretary existed in the Irish Free State and in 1978 was replaced by the office of Minister of State, in each case typically several such offices were assigned in a government.
During Jean Chrétien's term as Prime Minister of Canada, parliamentary secretaries were set to two-year terms and the post was used as a reward for weary backbenchers. The only real duty of parliamentary secretaries was to answer questions and table reports on behalf of ministers when they were unable to be present in the house.
Current Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, when sworn-in in 2003, promised a new role for parliamentary secretaries. They would now be sworn into the privy council giving them access to secret documents, be allowed to attend Canadian Cabinet meetings and be assigned specific files by ministers. This replaced the positions of Secretaries of State which had been in practice under Chrétien.
In the United Kingdom, parliamentary secretaries are the third level of government minister; above them are ministers of state, and above those secretaries of state. Parliamentary private secretaries (PPS) are rather different - they are members of parliament who act as unpaid assistants to individual ministers, but have no ministerial role despite being expected to support the government at all times.
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