Function of the Cabinet in UK

Function of the Cabinet in UK. Thus, the Cabinet is surrounded by expert help channeled to it or its committees or to individual Ministers, marshaled as and when the Cabinet needs it to be used as its wisdom requires. Going up to the Cabinet are sifted facts and sifted evaluations and ideas.

From, it, outward and downward to the departmental officials flow will policies, and desires asking guidance, counsel, facts. This is how the Cabinet is enabled to perform its arduous and complex functions of governance. The Report of the Machinery of Government Committee officially defined the functions of the Committee as:

  1. The final determination of policy to be submitted to Parliament.
  2. The supreme control of the national executive in accordance with the policy prescribed by Parliament; and
  3. The continuous co-ordination and delimitation of the activities of the several Departments of the State.

Policy-Determining Functions:-

The Cabinet is a deliberative and policy formulating body. It discusses and decides all sorts of national and international problems and attempts to reach unanimous agreements among members regarding the Government’s policy concerning each. However much the members may disagree among themselves, they must present to Parliament and to the world a united front. If an individual member finds it impossible to agree with the conclusions of the Cabinet, the only course left for him is to resign.

When the Cabinet has determined on a policy, the appropriate Department carries it out either by administrative action, with in the framework of the existing law, or by submitting a new Bill to Parliament so as to change the law in conformity to the policy. Legislation is, thus, the handmaid of administration and Cabinet is instrument, which, according to Bagehot, links the Executive branch of government to the Legislative. The Cabinet directs Parliament for action in a certain way and so long as it can command a majority in the House of Commons, it gets the approval of the sovereign organ of the State Parliament. This is how the Cabinet asks Parliament to take necessary steps with a view to carrying of the policy determined into effect.

These are essentially the legislative functions of the Cabinet. But we cannot make a vivid and precise distinction between legislation and administration. In the modem state, writes  Jennings,

Most legislation is directed towards the creation or modification of administrative powers.

The Cabinet, accordingly, plans the legislative programme at the beginning of each session of Parliament. Public Bills are introduced and piloted in Parliament usually by a Cabinet Minister or by some other Minister acting on Cabinet’s approval. In legislation, the control of the Cabinet over the Ministry is complete for no Bill can be promoted except with its sanction, and the Legislation Committee of the Cabinet discusses at the beginning of each session what Bills shall be promoted in a session. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that the Cabinet legislates with the advice and consent of Parliament.

Ogg has aptly said that Cabinet Ministers  formulate policies, make decisions and draft bills on all significant matters which in their judgment require legislative attention, asking of Parliament only that only that it give effect w such decisions and policies by considering them and taking the necessary votes.

As long as the Government has a majority in Parliament, it is rare to challenge Cabinet policy. The Cabinet takes office if it thinks it enjoys the confidence of Parliament, and once in office Cabinets tend to act as  masters rather than servants of Parliament,

Supreme Control of the Executive:-

The Cabinet is not an executive instrument in the sense that it possesses any legal powers because it is entirely a product of non-legal conventions. Legally, the Executive power still vests in the King, though practically the Crown is the Executive, But the Crown is rather a concept than a tangible authority. The real authority that acts for the Crown and in its name are Ministers. These Ministers, except for the holders of three or four sinecure offices, preside over the major Departments of government and carry out the policy determined by the Cabinet and approved, by Parliament. In carrying out the work of their Departments, Ministers, whether in the Cabinet or not, scrupulously follow the directions of the Cabinet and enforce its decisions and policies. Any deviation therefrom is against the rigid discipline of the party government and may consequently lead to the removal of Minister.

As heads of the Departments, the Ministers are responsible for the policies pursued by their Departments and for their administrative efficiency. They decide policy issues that arise in their Departments, give instructions to their principal subordinates and supervise the Departmental activities to such an extent as to enable them to know that their Departments work in the desired direction.

The Ministers are also answerable to Parliament for all acts of omission and commission and, accordingly, they must look for the efficient management of departmental business and see that it is responsive to the needs of the people. John Stuart Mill appropriately said that the Minister must receive the whole praise of what is well done, the whole blame of what the work of his Department, and that in consequence he must resign if serious blunders are exposed.

The Cabinet may adopt the device of Orders-in-Council, instead of going to Parliament for approval, to give effect to some more general line of policy including even a declaration of war, Both the World Wars were declared -by Orders in-Council. The supreme national executive is, therefore, the Cabinet. The power of delegated legislation has still more enhanced Cabinet’s Executive authority. Parliament may give to the King-in-Council, to individual Ministers of the Crown or to other persons or bodies the right to make rules and regulations. Legislation, during recent times, has become more voluminous and more technical. Parliament frequently passes laws in skeleton form, leaving it to the Cabinet or Ministers to fill the gaps and make rules and regulations in order to give effect t to those laws as and when need arises.

Cabinet as Coordinator:-

The essential function of the Cabinet is to co-ordinate and guide the functions of the several Departments of Government. Administration cannot be rigidly divided into twenty or more Departments. The action of one Department may affect the work of another Department and, indeed, every important problem cuts across departmental boundaries.

A foreign policy decision must often be made in relation to defense and trade policy. An educational policy decision may affect health, labor or taxation policy. Even if no other Department is affected, it certainly concerns the Treasury Department. The Cabinet does the vital task of coordinating policy and its implementation.

This means not only the linking of specific administrative decisions by reference to a general policy, but the expression of the same general policy in legislation. On purely inter-departmental matters the Departments endeavor to resolve their differences and try to reach agreement. If they cannot agree, the Prime Minister might act as an arbitrator and coordinator. In the last resort there is appeal to the Cabinet.

The emergence of the Cabinet Committees and the increased problem of coordination has brought about a significant expansion in the work of the cabinet office The Prime Minister and the Chairmen of the Cabinet Committees now primarily upon the corps of expert assistants in the Cabinet Secretariat to supply them with the requisite information and advice in integrating the work of the different departments. The functions of the Cabinet Secretariat, internal, are to take down and circulate the conclusions of the Cabinet and its Committees and to prepare the reports of Cabinet Committees.

The Cabinet Secretariat, writes Herbert Morrison,

Has now become an important element in the organization of Government. It serves not only the Cabinet but also its Committees and at times, ad hoc meetings of selected Ministers to settle a particular matter which may be a subject of inter-departmental disagreement.

Apart from the Cabinet Committees, the most ambitious post 1945 experiment in the co ordination of government Departments was the system of Overlords introduced by Sir Winston Churchill in his 1951-55 Government. In the 1951 Cabinet of sixteen members, formed by Churchill, there were six Peers three of whom were Overlords entrusted with the task of coordinating various Departments.

Lord Leathers was Minister for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power; Lord Cherwell was Pym aster-General and he was to Co-ordinate scientific research and development; and Lord Woolton, Lord President of the Council, was to co-ordinate the work of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Food. Lord Alexander was made Minister of Defense in 1952 thereby increasing the number of overlords to four. The object of Churchill’s scheme was to group and co-ordinate the Departments by means other than the Cabinet Committee system and to reorganize the nature and structure of Cabinet composition.

But there were a number of weaknesses in the system, especially the confusion that it caused as to who was the responsible Minister, the Departmental Minister or the Overlord. Since the Overlordis were Peers and not accountable to the House of Commons, the Opposition attacked the system as it threatened the authority of the House of Commons. After the 1952 Trans port crisis, the experiment of Overlords was gradually abandoned.

Cabinet and the Budgets:-

Two more functions may be added to those enumerated above:-

The Cabinet is responsible for the whole  expenditure of the State and for raising necessary revenues to meet it. The annual Budget Statement is excluded from the scope of the Cabinet decisions, but being a matter of political importance, it is always brought before the Cabinet and the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes an oral statement about it a few days! before his Budget speech in the House of Commons.

The reason for this peculiar procedure is the fundamental importance of secrecy. But it is within the discretion of the Cabinet to ask for longer notice and effective discussion. On the estimates, the control of the Cabinet is complete. With regard to new proposals for taxation, if they involve any major change of taxation policy, they must be considered at length before the Budget ts produced.

Winston Churchill said in 1937, that, although the general layout of financial policy should emanate from the Chancellor of the Exchequer personally, and should be submitted to the Cabinet only in its final form, there ought to be, and there nearly always has been a special procedure in respect of new and novel imposts.

It would be in my opinion, a departure from custom, for any Chancellor of the Exchequer to present to a Cabinet, only a few days before the opening of the Budget, some great schemes of new taxation, which had not been examined.

Moreover, the Cabinet can always insist on modifications alter the Budget has been presented to Parliament. The Cabinet can also overthrow a Budget altogether, at the risk of the resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in deference to parliamentary or public opinion.

But Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, fearing opposition to her £ 33 billion deflationary budget, which had raised taxes all around, avoided holding any pre-budget Cabinet meeting to discus the Government’s overall economic Strategy. By thus springing a surprise on her colleagues she grievously undermined the principle of collective cabinet responsibility, demanding their loyal without respecting their views.

Lord Carrington,Lord Soames, Sir Francis Pym, Ian Gilmour, Jim Prior and Walker, all senior Cabinet Ministers, were extremely unhappy with the Prime Minister’s methods and her monetarist policies. The budget provoked open rebellion in the Conservative Party. At the end of the four-day budget debate in the House of Commons, the Government’s proposal to impose a 15 per cent increase in petrol taxes was passed by 295 votes to 281, a margin of only 14 when her Government had a majority of 44. Eight Conservative MPs voted against the Government while 25 others abstained. Brocklebank-Fowler caused a sensation by crossing the floor to join the ranks of the Labor dissidents who soon formed the Social Democratic Party

Cabinet and Appointments:-

Appointments do not normal! come before the Cabinet. But all major appointments to great offices of the State, at home and abroad, are the responsibility of the Cabinet. The employment of a member of the Royal Family as Governor-General must always be dealt with by the Cabinet. Similarly, certain key positions like the Secretaryship to the Treasury, and the Chief Planning Officer might be made with the approval of the Cabinet. In the case of the Viceroy of India, the Cabinet had on several occasions intervened because this post had always been considered of special importance. In the case of Sinha’s appointment to the Governor-General’s Council the Cabinet was consulted. The King objected to the principle of appointing to that Council any Indian and only agreed to the appointment when the Cabinet unanimously advised that the appointment should be made as part of the reform scheme in India.
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