Cabinet of the United Kingdom
Overview
 
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers
Minister (government)
A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government. Senior ministers are members of the cabinet....

.

Ministers of the Crown, and especially Cabinet Ministers, are selected primarily from the elected members of House of Commons, and also from the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

, by the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

. Cabinet Ministers are heads of government departments
Departments of the United Kingdom Government
Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom contains a number of Cabinet ministers who are usually called secretaries of state when they are in charge of Government departments called ministerial departments...

, mostly with the office of "Secretary of State
Secretary of State (United Kingdom)
In the United Kingdom, a Secretary of State is a Cabinet Minister in charge of a Government Department ....

 for [function, e.g.
Encyclopedia
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers
Minister (government)
A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government. Senior ministers are members of the cabinet....

.

Ministers of the Crown, and especially Cabinet Ministers, are selected primarily from the elected members of House of Commons, and also from the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

, by the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

. Cabinet Ministers are heads of government departments
Departments of the United Kingdom Government
Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom contains a number of Cabinet ministers who are usually called secretaries of state when they are in charge of Government departments called ministerial departments...

, mostly with the office of "Secretary of State
Secretary of State (United Kingdom)
In the United Kingdom, a Secretary of State is a Cabinet Minister in charge of a Government Department ....

 for [function, e.g. Defence]". The collective co-ordinating function of the Cabinet is reinforced by the statutory position that all the Secretaries of State jointly hold the same office, and can exercise the same powers.

The Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making body of the executive
Executive (government)
Executive branch of Government is the part of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the idea of the separation of powers.In many countries, the term...

 within the Westminster system
Westminster System
The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after the politics of the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom....

 of government in traditional constitutional theory. This interpretation was originally put across in the work of nineteenth century constitutionalists such as Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot was an English businessman, essayist, and journalist who wrote extensively about literature, government, and economic affairs.-Early years:...

, who described the Cabinet as the 'efficient secret' of the British political system in his book The English Constitution
The English Constitution
The English Constitution is a book by Walter Bagehot. Written in 1867, it explores the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically the functioning of Parliament and the British monarchy and the contrasts between British and American government...

. The political and decision-making authority of the cabinet has been gradually reduced over the last several decades, with some claiming its role has been usurped by a "Prime Ministerial" (i.e. more "presidential") government.

The Cabinet is the executive committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

, a historic body which has legislative, judicial and executive functions, and whose large membership includes members of the Opposition
Loyal opposition
In parliamentary systems of government, the term loyal opposition is applied to the opposition parties in the legislature to indicate that the non-governing parties may oppose the actions of the sitting cabinet typically comprising parliamentarians from the party with the most seats in the elected...

. Its decisions are generally implemented either under the existing powers of individual government departments, or by Orders in Council.

Historical

Until at least the sixteenth century, individual Officers of State had separate property, powers and responsibilities granted with their separate offices by Royal Command, and the Crown and the Privy Council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

 constituted the only co-ordinating authorities. In England, phrases such as "cabinet counsel", meaning advice given in private, in a cabinet
Cabinet (room)
A cabinet was one of a number of terms for a private room in the domestic architecture and that of palaces of early modern Europe, a room serving as a study or retreat, usually for a man. The cabinet would be furnished with books and works of art, and sited adjacent to his bedchamber, the...

 in the sense of a small room, to the monarch, occur from the late 16th century, and, given the non-standardised spelling of the day, it is often hard to distinguish whether "council" or "counsel" is meant. The OED credits Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 in his Essays
Essays (Francis Bacon)
Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed was the first published book by the philosopher, statesman and jurist Francis Bacon. The Essays are written in a wide range of styles, from the plain and unadorned to the epigrammatic...

(1605) with the first use of "Cabinet council", where it is described as a foreign habit, of which he disapproves: "For which inconveniences, the doctrine of Italy, and practice of France, in some kings’ times, hath introduced cabinet counsels; a remedy worse than the disease". Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 began a formal "Cabinet Council" from his accession in 1625, as his Privy Council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

, or "private council", was evidently not private enough, and the first recorded use of "cabinet" by itself for such a body comes from 1644, and is again hostile and associates the term with dubious foreign practises. The process has repeated itself in recent times, as Prime Ministers have felt the need to have a Kitchen Cabinet
Kitchen Cabinet
The Kitchen Cabinet was a term used by political opponents of President of the United States Andrew Jackson to describe the collection of unofficial advisers he consulted in parallel to the United States Cabinet following his purge of the cabinet at the end of the Eaton affair and his break with...

.

Since the reign of King George I
George I of Great Britain
George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 until his death, and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire from 1698....

 the Cabinet has been the principal executive group of British government. Both he and George II
George II of Great Britain
George II was King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Archtreasurer and Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 11 June 1727 until his death.George was the last British monarch born outside Great Britain. He was born and brought up in Northern Germany...

 made use of the system, as both were non-native English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 speakers, unfamiliar with British
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 politics, and thus relied heavily on selected groups of advisers. The term "minister" came into being since the royal officers "ministered" to the sovereign. The name and institution have been adopted by most English-speaking countries, and the Council of Ministers
Cabinet (government)
A Cabinet is a body of high ranking government officials, typically representing the executive branch. It can also sometimes be referred to as the Council of Ministers, an Executive Council, or an Executive Committee.- Overview :...

 or similar bodies of other countries are often informally referred to as cabinets.

The modern Cabinet system was set up by Prime Minister David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

 during his premiership 1916–1922, with a Cabinet Office
Cabinet Office
The Cabinet Office is a department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom....

 and Secretariat, committee structures, unpublished Minutes, and a clearer relationship with departmental Cabinet Ministers. (The formal procedures, practice and proceedings of the Cabinet remain largely unpublished, if not secret.)

This development grew out of the exigencies of the First World War, where faster and better co-ordinated decisions across Government were seen as a crucial part of the war effort. Decisions on mass conscription
Conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

, co-ordination worldwide with other governments across international theatres, and armament production tied into a general war strategy that could be developed and overseen from an inner "War Cabinet
War Cabinet
A War Cabinet is a committee formed by a government in a time of war. It is usually a subset of the full executive cabinet of ministers. It is also quite common for a War Cabinet to have senior military officers and opposition politicians as members....

". The country went through successive crises after the war: the 1922–1926 General Strike
General strike
A general strike is a strike action by a critical mass of the labour force in a city, region, or country. While a general strike can be for political goals, economic goals, or both, it tends to gain its momentum from the ideological or class sympathies of the participants...

; the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 of 1929–32; the rise of communist Bolshevism after 1917 and Fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 after 1922; the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 1936 onwards; the invasion of Abyssinia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 1936; the League of Nations Crisis which followed; and the re-armament and resurgence of Germany from 1933, leading into another World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. All these demanded a highly organised and centralised Government based around the Cabinet.

This centralisation inevitably enhanced the power of the Prime Minister, who moved from being the primus inter pares
Primus inter pares
Primus inter pares is Latin phrase describing the most senior person of a group sharing the same rank or office.When not used in reference to a specific title, it may indicate that the person so described is formally equal, but looked upon as an authority of special importance by their peers...

of the Asquith Cabinets
H. H. Asquith
Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, PC, KC served as the Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916...

 of 1906 onwards, with a glittering set of huge individual talents leading powerful departments, to the dominating figures of David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

, Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG, PC was a British Conservative politician, who dominated the government in his country between the two world wars...

 and Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

.

Composition

Cabinet Ministers, like all Ministers, are appointed and may be dismissed by the monarch at pleasure (that is, they may be dismissed without notice or reason given, although normally they are given a courteous option to resign), on the advice of the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

. The allocation and transfer of responsibilities between ministers and departments is also generally at the Prime Ministers' discretion. The Cabinet has always been led by the Prime Minister, whose unpaid office as such was traditionally described as merely primus inter pares
Primus inter pares
Primus inter pares is Latin phrase describing the most senior person of a group sharing the same rank or office.When not used in reference to a specific title, it may indicate that the person so described is formally equal, but looked upon as an authority of special importance by their peers...

(first among equals), but today the Prime Minister is clearly the preeminent head of government
Head of government
Head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is often styled prime minister, chief minister, premier, etc...

, with the power to appoint and dismiss Cabinet ministers and to control the Cabinet's agenda. The extent to which the Government is collegial presumably varies with political conditions and individual personalities.

Any change to the composition of the Cabinet involving more than one appointment is customarily referred to as a reshuffle
Cabinet shuffle
In the parliamentary system a cabinet shuffle or reshuffle is an informal term for an event that occurs when a head of government rotates or changes the composition of ministers in their cabinet....

; a routine reshuffle normally occurs every summer. The total number of ministers allowed to be paid as "Cabinet ministers" is limited by the (Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975), and this has caused successive Prime Ministers problems, and accounts for some of the unusual regular attendees at Cabinet, who are not paid as Cabinet ministers. The number in addition to the Prime Minister, currently 23, often fluctuates between 21 and 24.

The Cabinet Secretary
Cabinet Secretary
A Cabinet Secretary is almost always a senior official who provides services and advice to a Cabinet of Ministers. In many countries, the position can have considerably wider functions and powers, including general responsibility for the entire civil service...

 is neither a Secretary of State or other minister, nor a member of the Cabinet, but is the professional Head of Her Majesty's Civil Service. (The Cabinet Secretaries of the devolved Scottish Government are Scottish Ministers, unrelated to the U.K. Cabinet).

In formal constitutional
Constitution of the United Kingdom
The constitution of the United Kingdom is the set of laws and principles under which the United Kingdom is governed.Unlike many other nations, the UK has no single core constitutional document. In this sense, it is said not to have a written constitution but an uncodified one...

 terms, the Cabinet is a committee of the Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council. All Cabinet members are created Privy Counsellors on appointment (if they are not already Privy Counsellors), but only selected Privy Counsellors are appointed to the Cabinet or invited to attend. MPs in the Cabinet therefore use the style "The Right Honourable
The Right Honourable
The Right Honourable is an honorific prefix that is traditionally applied to certain people in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Anglophone Caribbean and other Commonwealth Realms, and occasionally elsewhere...

"; Privy Counsellors in the House of Lords place the letters "PC" after their names to distinguish themselves, since all peers are "The Right Honourable" or hold a higher style
Forms of Address in the United Kingdom
Forms of address used in the United Kingdom are given below.Several terms have been abbreviated in the table below. The forms used in the table are given first, followed by alternative acceptable abbreviations in parentheses.-Abbreviations:*His/Her Majesty: HM...

 as of right.

Recently the Cabinet has been made up almost entirely of members of the House of Commons. The Leader of the House of Lords
Leader of the House of Lords
The Leader of the House of Lords is a member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom who is responsible for arranging government business in the House of Lords. The role is always held in combination with a formal Cabinet position, usually one of the sinecure offices of Lord President of the Council,...

 is necessarily a member of the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 and the Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

 was, until recently, always a member of the House of Lords, however the current holder is a member of the House of Commons
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

, but otherwise it is now rare for a peer to sit in the Cabinet. Until the re-appointment to the cabinet of Lord Mandelson
Peter Mandelson
Peter Benjamin Mandelson, Baron Mandelson, PC is a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004, served in a number of Cabinet positions under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and was a European Commissioner...

 on 3 October 2008, the former Leader of the Lords, Lady Amos
Valerie Amos, Baroness Amos
Valerie Ann Amos, Baroness Amos, PC is the eighth and current UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Before her appointment to the UN, she had been British High Commissioner to Australia. She was made a Labour life peer in 1997 and served as Leader...

, was the last peer to sit in any other Cabinet post, as Secretary of State for International Development
Secretary of State for International Development
In the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for International Development is a Cabinet minister responsible for the Department for International Development and for promoting development overseas, particularly in the third world...

 from May to October 2003. Before then, the last Secretary of State
Secretary of State (United Kingdom)
In the United Kingdom, a Secretary of State is a Cabinet Minister in charge of a Government Department ....

 for a major department drawn from the Lords was Lord Young of Graffham
David Young, Baron Young of Graffham
David Ivor Young, Baron Young of Graffham, PC DL is a British Conservative politician and businessman.-Early life:Young is the elder son of a businessman who imported flour and later set up as a manufacturer of coats for children...

, serving between 1985 and 1989 as Secretary of State for Employment
Secretary of State for Employment
The Secretary of State for Employment was a position in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. In 1995 it was merged with Secretary of State for Education to make the Secretary of State for Education and Employment...

 until 1987 and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is a cabinet position in the United Kingdom government. Its secondary title is the President of the Board of Trade...

 until 1989. The number of junior ministers who are peers has increased since 1997.

Occasionally cabinet members are selected from outside the Houses of Parliament and if necessary granted a peerage. Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

 appointed Frank Cousins
Frank Cousins
Frank Cousins PC was a British trade union leader and Labour politician.He was born in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, and became a full-time official in the road transport section of the Transport and General Workers' Union in July 1938...

 and Patrick Gordon Walker
Patrick Gordon Walker
Patrick Chrestien Gordon Walker, Baron Gordon-Walker CH, PC was a British Labour Party politician. He was a Member of Parliament for nearly thirty years, and served twice as a Cabinet minister...

 to the 1964 cabinet despite their not being MPs at the time. On 3 October 2008 Peter Mandelson, at the time of appointment not a member of either House, became Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and was immediately made a life peer
Life peer
In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the Peerage whose titles cannot be inherited. Nowadays life peerages, always of baronial rank, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as...

. During the First World War, the South African politician Jan Smuts served in Lloyd George's War Cabinet without ever becoming a member of either House of the British Parliament.

There are some 100 junior members of the Government who are not members of the Cabinet, including Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
A Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is the lowest of three tiers of government minister in the government of the United Kingdom, junior to both a Minister of State and a Secretary of State....

; and unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretaries
Parliamentary Private Secretary
A Parliamentary Private Secretary is a role given to a United Kingdom Member of Parliament by a senior minister in government or shadow minister to act as their contact for the House of Commons; this role is junior to that of Parliamentary Under-Secretary, which is a ministerial post, salaried by...

 are in practice apprentice ministers on the payroll vote
Payroll vote
Payroll vote is a term in the British Parliamentary System for Members of Parliament who concurrently hold Government positions. It includes ministers, junior ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries: even though the last are unpaid, they are "widely regarded as being on the first rung of...

. Some of them may be Privy Counsellors, or may be appointed to the Privy Council as a mark of distinction, without becoming Cabinet Ministers. Equally, some junior ministers below Cabinet level may be invited to all Cabinet meetings as a matter of course. The Attorney General for England and Wales
Attorney General for England and Wales
Her Majesty's Attorney General for England and Wales, usually known simply as the Attorney General, is one of the Law Officers of the Crown. Along with the subordinate Solicitor General for England and Wales, the Attorney General serves as the chief legal adviser of the Crown and its government in...

 together with the chair of the governing political party, are customarily included, and other members of the Government can be invited at the Prime Minister's discretion, either regularly or ad-hoc.

In recent years, more non-members of Her Majesty's Government have been permitted by the Prime Minister to attend Cabinet meetings on a regular basis, notably Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell
Alastair John Campbell is a British journalist, broadcaster, political aide and author, best known for his work as Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003, having first started working for Blair in 1994...

 in his capacity as Director of Communications and Strategy between 1997 and 2003, and Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Powell (chief of staff to Tony Blair)
Jonathan Nicholas Powell is a British diplomat who served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff, under British Prime Minister Tony Blair throughout his premiership, from his election in 1997 until his resignation in 2007...

 the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister under Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

, with a distinctly separate role from the Cabinet Secretary
Cabinet Secretary
A Cabinet Secretary is almost always a senior official who provides services and advice to a Cabinet of Ministers. In many countries, the position can have considerably wider functions and powers, including general responsibility for the entire civil service...

/Head of the Civil Service.

Meetings of the cabinet

The Cabinet meets on a regular basis, usually weekly on a Thursday morning notionally to discuss the most important issues of government policy, and to make decisions. Despite the custom of meeting on a Thursday, after the appointment of Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown
James Gordon Brown is a British Labour Party politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 until 2010. He previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government from 1997 to 2007...

 as Prime Minister the meeting day was switched to Tuesday. However, since becoming prime minister, David Cameron has held his cabinet meetings on Thursdays again. The length of meetings varies according to the style of the Prime Minister and political conditions, but today meetings can be as little as 30 minutes in length, which suggests announcement or ratification of decisions taken in committee, by informal groups, or in bi-lateral discussions between the Prime Minister and individual colleagues, with discussion in Cabinet itself very limited. The Prime Minister normally has a weekly audience with The Queen thereafter.

The Cabinet has numerous sub-committees
United Kingdom cabinet committee
The executive arm of the United Kingdom government is controlled by the Cabinet, a group of senior government ministers chaired by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet has a group of committees called cabinet committees, which perform most of the day-to-day work of cabinet government.The committee...

 which focus on particular policy areas, particularly ones which cut across several ministerial responsibilities, and therefore need coordination. These may be permanent committees or set up for a short duration to look at particular issues ("ad hoc
Ad hoc
Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning "for this". It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes. Compare A priori....

 committees"). Junior Ministers are also often members of these committees, in addition to Secretaries of State. The transaction of government business through meetings of the Cabinet and its many committees is administered by a small secretariat within the Cabinet Office
Cabinet Office
The Cabinet Office is a department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom....

. Consequent Orders in Council are normally made by the Queen-in-Council
Queen-in-Council
The Queen-in-Council is, in each of the Commonwealth realms, the technical term of constitutional law that refers to the exercise of executive authority, denoting the monarch acting by and with the advice and consent of his or her privy council or executive council The Queen-in-Council (during...

 with a quorum of the Privy Council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

, which meets monthly or ad-hoc.

The Institute for Government
Institute for Government
The Institute for Government is an United Kingdom independent charity that aims to improve government effectiveness created in 2008. It was initially funded with about £15 million by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, at the instigation of Lord David Sainsbury.....

 claims that the reduced number of full Cabinet meetings signify "that the role of Cabinet as a formal decision-making body has been in decline since the war."

Most Prime Ministers have had a so-called "kitchen cabinet" consisting of their own trusted advisers who may be Cabinet members but are often trusted personal advisers on their own staff. In recent governments, generally from Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

, and especially in that of Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

, it has been reported that many or even all major decisions have been made before cabinet meetings. This suggestion has been made by former ministers such as Clare Short
Clare Short
Clare Short is a British politician, and a member of the Labour Party. She was the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood from 1983 to 2010; for most of this period she was a Labour Party MP, but she resigned the party whip in 2006 and served the remainder of her term as an Independent. She...

 and Chris Smith
Chris Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury
Christopher "Chris" Robert Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury PC is a British Labour Party politician, and a former Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister...

, in the media, and was made clear in the Butler Review
Butler Review
On February 3, 2004, the British Government announced an inquiry into the intelligence relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which played a key part in the Government's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. A similar investigation was set up in the USA...

, where Blair's style of "sofa government" was censured.

Parliamentary accountability

There are two key constitutional conventions regarding the accountability of cabinet ministers to the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

, cabinet collective responsibility
Cabinet collective responsibility
Cabinet collective responsibility is constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that members of the Cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them. This support includes voting for the government in...

, and individual ministerial responsibility.

These are derived from the fact the members of the cabinet are Members of Parliament, and therefore accountable to the House of which they are a member. The Queen will only appoint a Prime Minister whose Government can command the support of the House of Commons, which alone can grant supply
Confidence and supply
In a parliamentary democracy confidence and supply are required for a government to hold power. A confidence and supply agreement is an agreement that a minor party or independent member of parliament will support the government in motions of confidence and appropriation votes by voting in favour...

 to a Government by authorising taxes; and the House of Commons expects all ministers to be personally accountable to Parliament. In practice, Cabinet Ministers will usually have a junior minister to represent their department in the House of Lords.

Cabinet collective responsibility
Cabinet collective responsibility
Cabinet collective responsibility is constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that members of the Cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them. This support includes voting for the government in...

 means that members of the cabinet make major decisions collectively, and are therefore collectively responsible for the consequences of these decisions. Therefore, no minister may speak against government decisions, and if a vote of no confidence is passed in Parliament, every minister and government official drawn from Parliament is expected to resign from the executive. So, logically, cabinet ministers who disagree with major decisions are expected to resign as, to take a recent example, Robin Cook
Robin Cook
Robert Finlayson Cook was a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Livingston from 1983 until his death, and notably served in the Cabinet as Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 2001....

 did over the decision to attack Iraq
Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

 in 2003. The principle of collective responsibility is not impaired by the fact that decisions may be made in a cabinet committee
United Kingdom cabinet committee
The executive arm of the United Kingdom government is controlled by the Cabinet, a group of senior government ministers chaired by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet has a group of committees called cabinet committees, which perform most of the day-to-day work of cabinet government.The committee...

 rather than by the full cabinet.

Individual ministerial responsibility is the convention that in their capacity as head of department, a minister is personally responsible for the actions and failings of their department. Under circumstances of gross failure in their department, a minister is expected to resign (and may readily be forced to do so by the Prime Minister), while their civil servants
Civil service
The term civil service has two distinct meanings:* A branch of governmental service in which individuals are employed on the basis of professional merit as proven by competitive examinations....

 remain permanent and anonymous. Perhaps surprisingly, this is relatively rare in practice, perhaps because administrative failure is of less interest to populist elements of the media than personal scandal, and less susceptible to unequivocal proof. The closest example in recent years is perhaps Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris, Baroness Morris of Yardley, PC was a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley from 1992 to 2005, and served briefly in the Cabinet as Education Secretary.-Early life:...

 who resigned as Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Secretary of State for Education and Skills
The Secretary of State for Education is the chief minister of the Department for Education in the United Kingdom government. The position was re-established on 12 May 2010, held by Michael Gove....

 in 2002, following severe problems and inaccuracies in the marking of A-level exams. The circumstances under which this convention is followed are of course not possible to define strictly, and depend on many other factors. If a minister's reputation is seen to be tarnished by a personal scandal (for example when it was luridly revealed that David Mellor
David Mellor
David John Mellor, QC is a British politician, non-practising barrister, broadcaster, journalist and football pundit. A member of the Conservative Party, he served in the Cabinet of Prime Minister John Major as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Secretary of State for National Heritage , before...

 had an extramarital affair) they very often resign. This often follows a short period of intense media and opposition pressure for them to do so. In general, despite numerous scandals, in Britain cases of serious corruption (e.g. acceptance of bribes) are relatively rare in comparison with many other democracies. One reason is the strength of the whip system, political parties and the civil service, in comparison to individual politicians. This means MPs and ministers have little capacity to be influenced by improper pressure.

Parliamentary Questions can be tabled for Ministers in either house of Parliament (a process called interpellation in political science, or PQs in practice), either for written or oral reply. These may be "planted" questions for the advantage of the Government, or antagonistic questions from the Opposition, or may genuinely seek information. Cabinet ministers must respond, either themselves or through a deputy, although the answers do not always fully answer the question. Written answers, which are usually more specific and detailed than oral questions are usually written by a civil servant. Answers to written and oral questions are published in Hansard
Hansard
Hansard is the name of the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the Westminster system of government. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard, an early printer and publisher of these transcripts.-Origins:...

.

Parliament cannot dismiss individual ministers (though members or a House may call for their resignation, or formally resolve to reduce their salary by a nominal amount), but the House of Commons is able to determine the fate of the entire Government. If a vote of no confidence in the Government passes, then the Queen will seek to restore confidence either by a dissolution of Parliament and the election of a new one, or by the acceptance of the resignation of her entire government.

In the United Kingdom's parliamentary system, the executive
Executive (government)
Executive branch of Government is the part of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the idea of the separation of powers.In many countries, the term...

 is not separate from the legislature
Legislature
A legislature is a kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend, and repeal laws. The law created by a legislature is called legislation or statutory law. In addition to enacting laws, legislatures usually have exclusive authority to raise or lower taxes and adopt the budget and...

, since Cabinet members are drawn from Parliament. Moreover the executive tends to dominate the legislature for several reasons:
  • the first-past-the-post
    First-past-the-post
    First-past-the-post voting refers to an election won by the candidate with the most votes. The winning potato candidate does not necessarily receive an absolute majority of all votes cast.-Overview:...

     voting system
    Voting system
    A voting system or electoral system is a method by which voters make a choice between options, often in an election or on a policy referendum....

     (which tends to give a large majority to the governing party)
  • the power of the Government Whips
    Whip (politics)
    A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are a party's "enforcers", who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy...

     (whose role is to ensure party members vote in accordance with the party line)
  • the "payroll vote
    Payroll vote
    Payroll vote is a term in the British Parliamentary System for Members of Parliament who concurrently hold Government positions. It includes ministers, junior ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries: even though the last are unpaid, they are "widely regarded as being on the first rung of...

    " (a term which refers to the fact that members of parliament of the governing majority party will wish to be promoted to an executive position, and then be on the government's payroll).
  • Collective Ministerial Responsibility requires members of the government to vote with the government on whipped votes, or else resign their position.

The combined effect of the Prime Minister's ability to control Cabinet by circumventing effective discussion in Cabinet and the executive's ability to dominate parliamentary proceedings places the British Prime Minister in a position of great power, that has been likened to an elective dictatorship
Elective dictatorship
An "elective dictatorship" is a phrase coined by the former Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom, Lord Hailsham, in a Richard Dimbleby Lecture at the BBC in 1976. It describes the state in which Parliament is dominated by the government of the day...

 (a phrase coined by Lord Hailsham
Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St Marylebone
For the businessman and philanthropist, see Quintin Hogg Quintin McGarel Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St Marylebone, KG, CH, PC, QC, FRS , formerly 2nd Viscount Hailsham , was a British politician who was known for the longevity of his career, the vigour with which he campaigned for the Conservative...

 in 1976). The relative impotence of Parliament to hold the Government of the day to account is often cited by the UK media as a justification for the vigour with which they question and challenge the Government.

In contemporary times, the nature of the cabinet has been criticised by some, largely because recently Prime Ministers are perceived as acting in a "presidential" manner. Such an accusation was made at Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 as he was believed to have refrained from using the Cabinet as a collective decision-making body. These actions caused concern as it contravened the convention of the PM being "first among equals". In this sense, he was acting like a US President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, who (unlike the British PM) is not constitutionally bound to make decisions collectively with a cabinet. Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 was also noted as being "presidential", in the capacity that she "forced" her own viewpoints onto her Cabinet. However the power that a Prime Minister has over his or her Cabinet colleagues is directly proportional to the amount of support that they have with their political parties and this is often related to whether the party considers them to be an electoral asset or liability. Further when a party is divided into factions a Prime Minister may be forced to include other powerful party members in the Cabinet for party political cohesion.

The Cabinet's formal relationship with Parliament, or at least the Prime Minister's hopes for it, are set out in the Ministerial Code.

Current Cabinet

Shadow Cabinet

The Official Opposition
Official Opposition (UK)
Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, or the Official Opposition, in the United Kingdom is led by the Leader of the Opposition. This is usually the political party with the second-largest number of seats in the House of Commons, as the largest party will usually form Her Majesty's Government...

 (the non-government party with the largest number of elected members of Parliament — currently the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

) is headed by the Shadow Cabinet and is supported by numerous junior opposition frontbenchers.

The Liberal Democrats
Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal political party in the United Kingdom which supports constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, banking reform and civil liberties .The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the...

, as the only other party with a large number of seats, used to call their leadership while in opposition the Liberal Democrat Frontbench Team
Liberal Democrat Frontbench Team
The Liberal Democrats are the third-largest political party in the United Kingdom. While in opposition, the Liberal Democrat leader appointed a team of Members of Parliament and Peers to speak for the party on different issues. Their areas of responsibility broadly corresponded to those of...

, but during the last Labour government, they started to use the term 'Shadow Cabinet'.

See also

  • List of British ministries
  • :Category:Members of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom
  • United Kingdom cabinet committee
    United Kingdom cabinet committee
    The executive arm of the United Kingdom government is controlled by the Cabinet, a group of senior government ministers chaired by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet has a group of committees called cabinet committees, which perform most of the day-to-day work of cabinet government.The committee...

  • Her Majesty's Government frontbench
    Her Majesty's Government frontbench
    The frontbench of Her Majesty's Government in the Parliament of the United Kingdom consists of the Cabinet and all other ministers.-Key:-Prime Minister and Cabinet Office:-Foreign relations:-Law and order:-Economy:-Social services:...


External links

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