Defence Council

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Defence Council (MOD)
Seal of the Defence Council.png
Seal of the Defence Council
Agency overview
JurisdictionUnited Kingdom
HeadquartersWhitehall, Westminster, London
Agency executive
Parent agencyMinistry of Defence

The Defence Council or formally Defence Council of the United Kingdom is the body legally entrusted with the defence of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories and with control over the British armed forces, and is part of the Ministry of Defence. It was established in 1964 when it replaced the Defence Board under the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Act 1964.[2]


The Defence Council was established in 1964 when it replaced the Defence Board under the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Act 1964, under the Secretary of State for Defence. It bought together politicians and military staff at the highest level within the new ministry to exercise the powers of command and administrative control previously exercised by the Board of Admiralty, the Army and Air Councils and the Defence Board. Its members were the Secretary of State for Defence, the ministers responsible for each service, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the chiefs of staff of the three services, the Chief Scientific Adviser, and the Permanent Under Secretary (Army).[3]

At the same time, the Board of Admiralty and the Army Council and Air Council were replaced by the Admiralty Board, Army Board and Air Force Board, which were subsidiary boards of the Defence Council. They too were chaired by the Secretary of State (although the appropriate minister usually acted for him in that capacity) and in effect it was these boards which took on most of the work of the Council.[4]

Initially the Council met on a regular basis, but by the mid-sixties it had fallen into decline and was to all extents and purposes non-operational by the end of the decade. The Council did not meet at all during the early seventies, but was resurrected in 1974 following the recommendations of the Rayner Report and the Headquarters Organisation Committee for the need for a visible top level body within the Ministry.[5]


The Secretary of State for Defence, who is a member of the Cabinet, chairs the Defence Council, and is accountable to the Queen and to Parliament for its business. The letters patent constituting the Defence Council vest it with the power of command over Her Majesty's Forces and give it responsibility for their administration, or in the words of the letters patent:

…to administer such matters pertaining to Our Naval Military and Air Forces as We through Our Principal Secretary of State for Defence direct them to execute And to have command under Us of all Officers Ratings Soldiers and Airmen of Our Naval Military and Air Forces…

In practice, the Defence Council is a formal body, and almost all its work is conducted by the Defence Board. In addition, the three service boards (the Admiralty Board, the Army Board and the Air Force Board), which are sub-committees of the Defence Council meet annually for each service chief to report to the Secretary of State on the health of their respective services.[6]


As of October 2021, membership of the Defence Council is as follows:[7]

Members Title Name
Political Secretary of State for Defence (Chairperson) The Rt Hon Ben Wallace
Minister of State for the Armed Forces James Heappey
Minister of State and the Lords Spokesman on Defence Baroness Annabel Goldie
Civil Service Permanent Secretary Sir Stephen Augustus Lovegrove
Director General Finance Charlie Pate
Military Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Patrick Carter
Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Timothy Peter Fraser
First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Tony Radakin
Chief of the General Staff General Sir Mark Alexander Popham Carleton-Smith
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston
Commander Joint Forces Command General Sir Patrick Nicholas Yardley Monrad Sanders


  1. at 7:21pm, 24th July 2019. "Ben Wallace Named New Defence Secretary". Forces Network. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  2. "Records of the Defence Board and Defence Council". Kew, London: National Archives UK. 1962–2000. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  3. National Archives UK
  4. National Archives UK
  5. National Archives UK
  6. "How Defence Works (December 2015)" (PDF). Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  7. MOD website