Ministerial portfolio titles

A reader e-mailed in asking why are some Ministerial portfolios “of” and some “for”, as in the Minister of Health and the Minister for Economic Development.

Now the short answer is the Prime Minister can call his or her Ministers whatever they like, subject to statutory references. Of course even then, you can change the law such as when we had a Treasurer as well as Minister of Finance.

But I figured there are probably some guidelines for the PM, and that if anyone knew the Cabinet Office would so I asked them and they were kind enough to reply:

You have asked why some ministerial titles use “of” and some use “for” – such as “Minister of Health” and “Minister for Economic Development”.

As you suggest in your email to Rebecca, the current set of portfolio titles is a combination of tradition and the preferences of Prime Ministers at the time the portfolios were created.  Many of the older titles use the “of” style (e.g., Health, Education, Finance, Defence), while a number of newer titles use the “for” style (e.g., Infrastructure, Regulatory Reform, Ethnic Affairs, Climate Change Issues).  Paragraph 2.8 of the Cabinet Manual  states “The Prime Minister determines the title and scope of each portfolio.”

So primarily PM preference, but also a factor of time. As far as I can tell, under Muldoon all portfolios were “of”.

There are a few other factors that guide the use of “of” and “for”:

– it is very much the case that when new appointments are made to established portfolios, the portfolio titles remain the same – whether “of” or “for” – especially if the title is used in legislation;

– “of” is often used where the portfolio relates directly to a ministry or department (e.g., Minister of Health, Minister of Justice, Minister of Corrections);

–  “for” is often used where the portfolio description is more “generic”; that is, where the Minister is responsible for a particular topic or area (e.g., Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister for Regulatory Reform);

– there are occasions when, for reasons of sense or style, it makes sense to use “of” or “for”.

What interested me was which exceptions there are to this. Key is the Minister of Tourism and you could argue that is a more generic description. However it is an old title, probably dating back to when we had a Tourism Department.

Gerry is Minister for Economic Development and that is the name of the Ministry.

Police is titled Minister of Police, but I recall people would joke that John Banks was better described as the Minister for the Police, as he was such a champion of them.

David Carter is Minister of Forestry and Minister for Biosecurity. But that is probably explained by Forestry being an older title.

Anyway I hope this answers the question, for the inquiring reader. Thanks again to Cabinet Office for the info.

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