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Cabinet in United Kingdom

Definition of Cabinet

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Cabinet :

A body of *ministers (normally about 20) consisting mostly of heads of chief government departments but also including some ministers with few or no departmental responsibilities; it is headed by the *Prime Minister, in whose gift membership lies. As the principal executive body under the UK constitution, its function is to formulate government policy and to carry it into effect (particularly by the initiation of legislation). The Cabinet has no statutory foundation and exists entirely by convention, although it has been mentioned in statute from time to time, e.g. in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1937, which provided additional salaries to “Cabinet Ministers”. The Cabinet is bound by the convention of collective responsibility, i.e. all members should fully support Cabinet decisions; a member who disagrees with a decision must resig If the government loses a vote of confidence, or suffers any other major defeat in the House of Commons, the whole Cabinet must resigne.

Cabinet (government) British Cabinet

Members of the Cabinet of the British government constitute the supreme executive authority of the government, and are the sole advisers to the crown. They are members of Parliament, usually of the same political party as the prime minister, and thus combine executive and legislative duties. Members of the Cabinet are individually responsible to the prime minister who appoints them, with approval of the crown. The prime minister also may remove any of them. Collectively the Cabinet is responsible to Parliament for its policies and actions.

The number of members of the British Cabinet varies. The tendency is for the number to increase in normal times with the growth of governmental functions and to decrease in national emergencies when the executive power is concentrated in fewer hands. The Cabinet meets at 10 Downing Street in London, in the house that the British statesman Robert Walpole presented to the nation. This house is the official residence of the prime ministers of Great Britain. [1]

History of the Cabinet

The following commentary about Cabinet in the Churchill Era is produced by the Churchill College (Cambridge): The committee of senior Government Ministers responsible for controlling overall policy.

The Cabinet in the History

The primary decision making body of the United Kingdom comprised of the Prime Minister and his 22 most senior ministers. The Cabinet is made up of representatives of each key area of society such as health, education and finance.

Cabinet Meaning in Politics

Description of Cabinet published by Mona Chalabi: The prime minister selects 21 of the most senior members of government to make up the Cabinet. Cabinets coordinate the work of various government departments and decide on policy together. Unlike debates in the House of Commons, Cabinet meetings are private, and Cabinet members are not supposed to disclose what takes place in them.

Cabinet Meaning, as used in the UK Parliament

The Cabinet is the team of 20 or so most senior ministers in the Government who are chosen by the Prime Minister to lead on specific policy areas such as Health, Transport, Foreign Affairs or Defence.

Cabinet Government

The peculiar functions of the English cabinet are not easily matched in any foreign system. They are a mystery even to most educated Englishmen. The cabinet is much more than a body consisting of chiefs of departments. It is the inner council of the empire, the arbiter of national policy, foreign or domestic, the sovereign in commission. The whole power of the House of Commons is concentrated in its hands. At the same time, it has no place whatever in the legal constitution. Its numbers and its constitution are not fixed even by any rule of practice. It keeps no record of its proceedings. The relations of an individual minister to the cabinet, and of the cabinet to its head and creator, the premier, are things known only to the initiated. With the doubtful exception of France, no other system of government presents us with anything like its equivalent. In the United States, as in the European monarchies, (there is) a council of ministers surrounding the chief of the state. [2]

The core of the British constitutional system

‘The Cabinet,’ writes Sir W. Ivor Jennings, ‘is the core of the British constitutional system. It is the supreme directing authority. It integrates what would otherwise be a heterogeneous collection of authorities exercising a vast variety of functions. It provides unity to the British system of government.’ Yet in spite of its essential nature it is a body without a legal existence. The Cabinet evolved from the Privy Council and eventually took its place as the executive organ of government, but its growth was a largely informal process. The word itself originally meant a small room or closet and thus came to signify a body of persons meeting together to deliberate in secret. As far back as Tudor times much of the work of the, Privy Council was delegated to committees, either standing or ad hoc, in order to relieve the pressure of administrative work.

The practice was continued under the Stuarts, and one of these committees, normally styled the Foreign Affairs Committee although it concerned itself with all matters of consequence, domestic as well as foreign, came to assume very great importance. It consisted of the King’s most trusted and intimate counsellors and frequently took decisions of major importance before the Privy Council had even been consulted upon the matters under discussion. The Parliaments of the 17th century took strong exception to such committees, which were variously described as junctos, cabals, or cabinets. But in spite of its unpopularity the system not only survived but flourished until it became under Anne the accepted machinery of executive government.

As the powers of ‘the committee’ (as it came to be called) increased, so the functions of the Privy Council came to be purely formal. The last serious attempt to restore the Privy Council to its former position was under the Act of Settlement in 1701. Until the accession of George I it had been customary for the Sovereign to preside over meetings of the committee, but from 1717 that monarch, being unable to speak English, ceased to attend and the business of government was transacted without royal participation. When attending upon the Sovereign the committee had been known as the Cabinet, and this was the name retained after the Sovereign’s withdrawal from their meetings. In the absence of the King it was necessary for a minister to take over the presiding function and there thus emerged the office of Prime Minister. [3]

Resources

Notes and References

  1. Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)
  3. Wilding, N. and Laundy, P., An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972

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  • Article Name: Cabinet
  • Author: W.S.M. Knight
  • Description: Definition of Cabinet In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Cabinet : A body of [...]

This entry was last updated: July 8, 2017

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