The Cabinet at Work in UK

The Cabinet at Work in UK. The Cabinet is the main body that controls policy and coordinates activities of governmental departments. It is chaired by the Prime Minister and consists of most of the ministerial heads of departments, as well as some additional members

Meetings of the Cabinet:-

The Cabinet now meets usually twice a during sessions of Parliament and once a set out of it or possibly not at all during the autumn recess. Additional meetings maybe Med by the Prime Minister at any time, if a matter urgently requiring discussion should arise.

It is not tied to any one place but ordinarily meets at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the prime Minister. Sometimes it meets in the Minister’s room at the House of Commons. The agenda for the meeting is prepared by the Cabinet Secretariat which is circulated among the member before the meet.

A Minister who wishes to place an item on the agenda, after setting it with his officials that the matter is worth the Cabinet’s Consideration, writes a paper on it for the use of his colleagues. The Secretariat will print it and circulate it among all the members of the Cabinet, if possible a week before the meeting.

The other Ministers look into it, partly for the general principles involved and partly for its probable effects on the Departments under their charge. They may discuss its implications with the Minister initiating the proposal for the policy or his officers in the Department and if they feel necessary print papers of their own on it for the Cabinet. It is from these communications that the Secretariat prepares the agenda in consultation with the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister opens the meetings informally and he may bring any matter not on the agenda, if he deems it necessary. The members discuss issues and reach decisions, avoiding details. As a rule, it concentrates on principles only. The Ministers discuss until agreement is reached. Votes are not taken. The Prime Minister interprets the consensus.

That would be shocking says Herbert Morrison,

That would give the whole thing away. That would exhibit a disunity in the Cabinet

Cabinet Committees:-

The burden of the  as Finer says, Its titanic. It Can’t adequately meets it’s huge tasks. In it’s traditional form, is it general  controlling body and it usually meet twice  a week and that too fora few, generally two hours at a time. Then it has too many members for effective discussion and many of them are departmental Ministers and  they are too per-occupied in their departmental duties. The Cabinet  therefore nether desires nor is able to tackle all the numerous details of Government. The result is the emergence of the Cabinet Committees.

The origin of the system of standing Cabinet Committees can be traced back to the committee of the Imperial Defense, which was formed in 1902 as a permanent committee to supplement the Cabinet’s general responsibility for defense. Cabinet Committees had been formed earlier too to deal with particular questions, but the Imperial Defense Committee was the first Standing Committee of the Cabinet.

A Home Affairs Committee was created in 1919 and more Standing Committees emerged in the inter War period. With the Second Word War an extensive Cabinet Committee system was adopted as the basis of the means of coordinating the expanding governmental machine. Attlee retained this committee system in 1945, and he had some fifteen committees composed of Cabinet and non-Cabinet Ministers, each presided over by a senior member of the Cabinet.

Some of the Cabinet Committees are continuous and , thus, permanent bodies; other are ad hoc, i.e. created for single time-limited matter; dealing with a special problem or a critical situation and composed of the Ministers primarily concerned. They deliberate, report and disband. Some important Standing Committees of the Cabinet are:

(1) The Legislation Committee formerly known as the Home Affairs Committee. The functions of the Legislation Committee are to review legislation proposed by individual Ministers, make recommendations to the Cabinet on legislative priorities, set their time-table and to consider the Parliamentary procedure to be followed to help the passage of the Bill;

(2) The Defense Committee is one of the largest and most important. It was first set up in World War I with the Prime Minister as Chairman. Its membership includes the Minister of Defense, the Lord President of the Council, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Labor, the Minister of Supply, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretaries of State for War, Air, Commonwealth Relations, and Colonies. It is advised by the Chiefs of Staff Committees consisting of the professional heads of the three military services. The Defense Committee concerns itself with the present and future defense problems, the preparation of plans over the whole field of government activity, both civil and military, for mobilizing the entire resources of the nation in case of war and then the problems of reconstruction in the post-war period.

(3) The Lord President’s Committee, presided over by he Lord President.

(4) The Economic Policy Committee, with the Prime Minister as Chairman; and

(5) The Production Committee.

The number and composition of the Cabinet Committees are largely determined by the Prime Minister, and he is guided by his own working methods, the nature of the problems which his Cabinet faces, and the talents and temperaments of his ministerial associates, Names of the committee members and their chairmen are kept private.

The chairmen of the committees are responsible to the Cabinet, and not to Parliament, for their role as committee chairmen. Despite the anonymity, writes Punnett, the chairmanship of a Cabinet Committee involves a lot of work, and the need to include in the Cabinet sufficient men capable of filling the role is one of the factors that a Prime Minister has to bear in mind when forming his government.

The Cabinet Committees, says Herman Finer

are deliberative or action-integrative, sometimes both

They provide a means whereby certain problems and issues can be studied and discussed by Ministers most concerned and some kind of compromise reached before they are brought before the whole Cabinet. It obviously assists consideration of a subject in Cabinet meetings, if the principal issues involved have been identified and thrashed out by a small ministerial group and agreed recommendation, submitted. Cabinet Committees are also useful to co-ordinate policy and administration.

The political, economic, social and administrative implications of the most vexed and the complex problems can be investigated and ways and means devised to mobilize efforts for their fulfillment and, at the same time, help to eliminate conflicts or duplication of programmes.

Moreover, committees can be employed to keep a critical problem under continuous review. It is neither possible nor desirable for the whole Cabinet to concentrate its attention on any aspect of national policy for an indefinite period of time.

Finally, by including non Cabinet Ministers the Committee system can extend the Cabinet’s coordinating activity to wider areas of governmental affairs. It is not also uncommon for senior members of the permanent services to attend as advisers to their Ministers. There are certain Cabinet Committees which have no political importance and civil servants are made full fledged members of these committees with the right to speak when they are asked for advice maintaining, of course, the responsibility of the Ministers for policy.

The Cabinet Committees, thus, combine two functions coordinating the Departments, and decentralizing the policy. They customarily report to the whole Cabinet and seek to submit agreed reports and recommendations. But a Minister who is not satisfied with the recommendations of a committee can appeal to the Cabinet, where, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, differences are tried to be resolved. If the dissenting Minister still does not reconcile himself to the Cabinet decision, the only course left for him is to resign.

Cabinet Secretariat:-

We traced in the last Chapter the origin of the Cabinet Secretariat. Today, the Secretariat has become an indispensable part of the machinery of government. It prepares an agenda of business, under the guidance of the Prime Minister, to come before the Cabinet and circulates to Cabinet Ministers any memorandum or Cabinet Committee reports that they must study before undertaking the discussion of items on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting. It keeps a record of the minutes and advises members of the decision reached in the meetings. It also serves the various Cabinet Committees and integrates their progress.

During the Second World War the Cabinet offices were expanded to include besides the Secretariat proper an Economic Section and a Central Statistical Office. The Economic Section maintains a constant watch on the economic trends and developments and advises the Cabinet as they affect the country and its people.

It prepares the annual Economic Surveys of the nation’s targets and the planning for production and capital investment. The Central Statistical Office was established to produce a developing statistical series, general and comprehensive in nature, to be an index to economic, and social trends.

It publishes the Monthly Digest of Statistics, In addition, a Central Policy Review staff has been appointed to work under the supervision of the Prime Minister, with and through Departments to assist Cabinet Ministers collectively by providing them with an assessment of Government policies and programmes as a whole
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