Principle of Cabinet System in UK

The Cabinet is, thus, a wheel within a wheel. Its outside ring consists of a party that has a majority in the House of Commons; the next ring being the Ministry, which contains men who are most active within that party; and the smallest of all being the Cabinet, containing the real leaders or chiefs. By this means is secured that unity of party action which depends upon placing the directing power in the hands of a body small enough to agree and influential enough to control.

The Cabinet is, in brief, the driving and the steering force. But despite its importance, it has no legal status as an organ of government. Its existence and working hinge s upon some well established customs, traditions and precedents. There is, however, one supreme virtue in it. The conventional character of the Cabinet makes it a highly flexible institution easily adjustable to meet emergencies or any other special circumstances. In act, the stupendous success of the Cabinet system in Britain, for the past two and a half centuries, may be properly attributed to the Cabinet’s high degree of adaptability.

The whole system is based upon the fact that the government is carried on in the name of the King, by Ministers who are members of the majority party in Parliament, and are responsible to Parliament for all their public acts both individually and collectively. These important features of the Cabinet system which have now become classical need analysis.

A Constitutional Executive Head:

Cabinet government means that the King is no longer the directing and deciding factor responsible before the nation for the measures taken. The whole of the political and executive power o the Crown is exercised in the King’s name by political men who belong norınally to the majority party in Parliament. These political men can be criticized, attacked and compelled to his answer questions, and they are liable to be turned  out of office, if their policy is not approved by and Parliament.

As the King takes no part in politics, he does not participate in the confidential discussions in which his ministers decide the advice they will give him. In other words, the King does Walker not preside over Cabinet meetings. The abstention of the King from Cabinet meetings was originally a matter of sheer accident, but it was a step of great constitutional inıportance in the the development of the responsible Ministry.

It does of not, however, mean that the King has nothing to absence do with the Cabinet and what it does. As Jennings has said, the Monarch may be said to be almost Lords a member of the Cabinet, and the only non-party the member.

Though, he keeps off the politics, yet he commands a position to influence the number decisions of the political leaders constituting the government of the day. But it must be repeated some that influence is not power and in the end the of the Monarch is bound by the Cabinet decision.

Chosen from Parliamentary Majority:-

Ministers are members of Parliament and, generally, in modern times, of the House of Commons, and they are chosen from that party which find has a majority in that House. These two facts, to be taken together are of fundamental importance.

The membership of Parliament gives to Ministers a representative and responsible character. It also binds together the Executive and Legislative British authorities and there can be no working at cross purposes between these two organs of Government.

The harmonious collaboration thus brought about ensures a stable and efficient government. Such a government is always responsive to the needs of the people. Moreover, Cabinet Ministers are leaders of the majority party in requisite the House of Commons and, consequently, they must assume direction of principal activities of than through could Parliament. This offers an effective opportunity to the Executive to present, to advocate, and to common defend its views and proposals.

It is now a well-settled convention that Ministers should be either Pecrs or members of  the house of Commons, thought there had been exceptional occasions when Ministers held office one out of Parliament. General Smuts was a Minister without Portfolio and a member of War Cabinet from 1916 and until of the War without his being a member of Parliament.

Sir A.G. Boscawen, as Minister of Agriculture, is another identical case in 1922-23, Ramsay MacDonald and Malcolm MacDonald were both members of the Cabinet though not in Parliament from November 1935 until early in 1936. Patrick Gordon Walker was the Foreign Secretary in Wilson’s Government til he was defeated in the by-election.

The House of Commons ts, however extremely critical of such exceptions. In truth, the conduct of government business in the House of Commons is such a onerous task that the absence of an important minister places a considerable burden on the rest. Even in the House of Lords the representation of many Departments, the piloting of their legislation, and the explanation of their policy demand the presence of a good number of Ministers and the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1965, recognizes the principle that some Ministerial posts must be filled by members  of the Lords.

Practical convenience as well as constitutional convention, therefore, compels the Prime Minister to confer office only upon members of Commons or peers. Ministers remain out of Parliament only while they are trying to find seats. If they cannot get in, and are unwilling to be created Peers,they resign from their offices.

Cabinet government means party government. This was explained by Professor Trevelyan in his Romanes Lecture. He said, The secret of British Constitution as it was developed in the course of the eighteenth century was the steady confidence reposed by the parliamentary majority in the Cabinet of the day. If that confidence is withdrawn every few months government becomes unstable, and men cry out for a despotism, old or new. In eighteenth-century England the requisite confidence of Parliament in the Cabinet could have been obtained in no other manner than through the bond of a party loyalty held in common by the Cabinet and by the majority of the House of Commons, Party provides the machinery which secures a stable government under a unified command of the politically homogeneous and disciplined leaders.

It was an easy task to form a Ministry from one single political party, which commanded the majority in Parliament, so long as there were only two political parties. With the emergence of the Labour Party in the beginning of the twentieth century,the position became a little uncertain because sometimes it might happen, as it did in 1924 and 1929, that no single party could command a majority with it in the House of Commons. Ramsay Mac Donald on both these times formed Government on the distinct support of the Liberal party.

In times of national emergencies, as the two world wars, and grave crisis, like the Economic Depression of 1931, there were coalition Ministries. But it is a rare feature as a coalition government is essentially anomalous in Britain, because it contradicts the fundamental principle that a Cabinet represents a party united in principle.

Coalition Government is a combination of strange bed-fellows who pursue rival policies and rival ambitions. The truth of the matter is that coalitions do not love each other and except in times of unusually abnormal political circumstances, the Government in Britain has always been a unified whole representing one single political party.

The coalition formed in May, 1940, was a true National Government as it represented all parties. But its sole aim was the successful prosecution of the War and it failed to survive the defeat of Germany by more than a few weeks, At that point, disagreements about post War reconstruction proved more fundamental than the common wish to go on to defeat Japan.

The future of the two-party system, however, appeared bleak with the split tn the Labor Party and formation of the Social Democratic Party in alliance with the Liberal Party. It was widely predicted that the three party system had come to stay in Britain and coalition government might become the future norm. But the alliance was just short-lived and the Social Democratic Party itself could hardly make any headway. The old pattern of two-party system prevails with its past vigour,

Leadership of the Prime Minister:-

The Cabinet is a team which plays the game of politics under the captaincy of the Prime Minister, The Prime Minister, according to Morley is the keystone of the arch. Although in the Cabinet all its members stand on an equal footing, Speak with equal voice and act in unison, yet the Chairman of the Cabinet is the first among equals and occupies a position of exceptional and peculiar authority. He is the leader of the Parliamentary majority and all Ministers work under his accepted leadership. It is true that the Prime Minister is technically appointed by the King, but in practice the choice of the King is pretty strictly confined to a man who is designated as a leader of the party.

It is from the time of Walpole we have the convention that the Prime Minister selects his own Ministers. The Ministers, no doubt, are appointed by the King, but in actual practice they are the nominees of the Prime Minister, The King simply receives and endorses the list prepared and presented to him by the Premier. If the Prime Minister has the power to make his Ministers, it is also his constitutional right to a make them.

The identity of the Ministers is not known without the Prime Minister. In 1931, Ramsay MacDonald tendered the resignation of his Cabinet without the knowledge of his colleagues and, in the words of Laski, with the announcement of the national government the ministers learnt of their own demise.

A party lives on party spirit and as an instrument of government it preserves its Continuous corporate identity under the leadership of the Prime Minister. All this accounts for unity and close association between Ministers on the one side and the Cabinet and the parliamentary majority on the other. Or, as Barker says, The unity and the corporate character is sustained and maintained by the dominance of the Prime Minister. This is the essence of Ministerial Responsibility.

Ministerial Responsibility:-

Ministerial responsibility is the first and foremost principle of the Cabinet system of government and collective responsibility is Britain’s principal contribution to modern political practice. According to Birch the term responsible Government  may be applied to the British political system in thee main respects.

In the first place, it may be regarded as a characteristic of the British system that governments do not act irresponsibly. That is to say, they do not abuse wide legal powers which they possess. In this sense, responsible government means trustworthy government, and is a general description of the British political culture.

Secondly, Responsible government is responsive to public opinion, and it acts in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the people. The third and the most specific meaning of responsible government is that the government is answerable to Parliament for all its acts.

This meaning is based on the principle that Ministers are members of Parliament and secondly, they must be drawn from the majority party and they remain in office so long as they can command the support of the majority of the members of the House of Commons. From this flow the doctrines of collective responsibility of the government and individual Ministerial responsibility to Parliament.

Ministerial responsibility to Parliament has two aspects the collective responsibility of Ministers for the political and actions of the Government, and their individual responsibility for the work of their Departments over which they preside, that is,a Minister in charge of a Department is answerable for all its acts and omissions and must bear consequences of any defect of administration. Both forms of responsibility are embodied in conventions.

According to Birch, Both conventions developed during the nineteenth century, and in both cases the practice was established before the doctrine was announced. Woodward, too, states that in 1815, the responsibility of the cabinet as a whole was difficult to establish, and that no ministry between 1783 and 1830 resigned as a result of defeat in the House of Commons; no ministry before 1830 ever resigned on a question of legislation or taxation.

Implicit in the doctrine of collective responsibility is the unity of the Government, Cabinet is a unit a unit as regards the Sovereign and a unit as regards the legislature, Cabinet Government is a Party Government and its members (Ministers) come into office as a unit under the leadership of a person whom the party acclaims, All Ministers stand for the political programme of the party and represent the uniformity of political opinion. They must, therefore, swim and sink together because the fall of the Ministry  is the fall of the party and, consequential its political programme.

The essence of the Cabinet is its solidarity; a Common front and collective responsibility had its origin in the need for Ministers in the eighteenth century to represent a united front to the Monarch on the one hand, and to Parliament on the other. Today, collective responsibility, writes Punnett, enables the Government to present a common face to its party supporters inside Parliament, to the party outside Parliament, and to the electorate generally the maintenance of a united Government front being an essential prerequisite of preservation of party discipline in the House, and to the answering of Opposition and public criticism of Government policy.

Collective responsibility applies to all Ministers alike, from senior Cabinet Ministers to Junior Ministers and one who is not prepared to defend the Cabinet decision must resign General Peel and three other Ministers resigned – because they did not agree with and support Disraeli’s Reform Bill.

Lord Morley and Bums resigned in 1914 as they could not approve of the decision to go to War. Sir Herbert Samuel and other Liberals, and Viscount Snowden resigned in 1932 because they could not support the Ottawa Agreement. Anthony Eden resigned in 1938 because he was unable to agree with the foreign policy adopted by Neville Chamberlain and the Cabinet In 1950, when a Junior Minister not in the Cabinet criticized the Government’s agriculture policy and resigned immediately afterwards, the Economist commented that he would have been in a stronger position of he had resign and made his criticisms afterwards, rather than transgress an accepts rule of the Constitution.

In 1958, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned because of the disagreement with other Ministers on the question of economic policy, the could know the disagreement only when the resignation was an Announced, The practice, as established now is that the doctrine of collective responsibility applies even to the unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretaries.

In 1965, Frank Allaun, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Colonial Secretary, resigned his post because he could not accept Government policy towards the crisis in Vietnam. In 1967, the Prime Minister forced a group of  parliamentary Private Secretaries to resign when they declined to support specific aspects of Government economic policy. But this aspect of the convention was broken in the 1970’s, when Prime Minister Wilson allowed ministers to remain in office, although they openly disagreed over the continuation of Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community.

The breach of the convention was logically acceptable, because the final decision was left to the nation in a referendum so that neither the ministers nor Parliament had responsibility for the decision. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, however, dismissed the Navy Minister, Keith Speed, because he had not only opposed the proposed cuts in the department but had publicly criticized the Government policy. Hal Miller,Parliamentary private secretary to the Leader of the House, Francis Pym, resigned because he did not agree with the policy on the steel industry.

But if a Minister does not resign, then, the decision of the Cabinet is as much his decision as that of his colleagues even if he protested against it in the Cabinet. This means that the Minister must vote for the decision in Parliament and, if necessary, defend it either in Parliament or in public. He cannot rebut the criticism of his opponents on the plea that he did not agree in the decision when the matter was being discussed in the Cabinet.

Lord Melbourne emphasized this aspect upon his colleagues after his Cabinet had come to a conclusion on the Corn Laws. He said, Bye the bye, there is one thing we have not agreed upon, which, is, what we are say. Is it to make our corn dearer or cheaper, or to make the price steady. I do not care which but we had better all be in the same story. That is to say, all Ministers should vote for the government and tell the same story wherever it was to be told. Glad stone that a Minister absenting at the time of division in Parliament should be censured.

The duty of the Minister is not merely to support the Government, but to refrain from making any speech which is contrary to the Cabinet policy or make a declaration of policy in a speech upon which there is no Cabinet decision. In 1922, Edwin Montague, the Secretary of State for India, was virtually dismissed, as he had permitted the Government of India to publish a telegram involving major policy without Cabinet sanction. In 1935, the Foreign secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, was at least allowed by the Baldwin Government to resign, because his secret proposals with the French Premier, Laval, on the Italo-Ethiopian question had met with nationwide disapproval.

The Cabinet is, thus, by its nature a unity and collective responsibility is the method by which this unity is secured. There is no other condition upon which that team work, which is the sine qua non of the Cabinet system,can become possible. All Ministers whether members of the Cabinet or not, share collective responsibility, including that for Cabinet or Cabinet Committee decisions in the reaching of which they have taken no part whatever.

This may sound rather rough, wrote Morrison, and indeed from time to time it is. But the government must stand together as a whole and Ministers must not contradict each other, otherwise cracks will appear in the government fabric. That is liable to be embarrassing or possibly fatal,and indeed injurious to good government.

All this ts part of the contract of service, It has to be endured as condition of acceptance of office. Moreover, collective responsibility begets mutual conference, and it makes possible that give and take in the shaping of policy without which any effective mutual confidence is rarely attained.

There is still another reason. If it were regarded as possible for a Cabinet Minister to free himself from the decision of his colleagues, after the course decided upon had proved unsuccessful or unpopular, both the trust and the secrecy which are so essential to the working of the Cabinet would be destroyed. This would further mean that the most private transactions in the Cabinet would of necessity be divulged to the public. Such a position is really frightful, because it might lead to the emergence of another body to replace the Cabinet, as the Cabinet once upon a time replaced the Privy Council, as organ for the discussion of policy.

Collective responsibility means, then, that an attack on a Minister is attack on Government. It also means that members of the Cabinet express a common opinion, prudent and mutually consistent. To repeat the phrase of Lord Melbourne they must all be in the same story. The theory of the Cabinet is that it must not disagree of course, it sometimes does, but not in public. To put it in the poignant words of Herbert Morrison, It must not seem to disagree.

Ministers must aim at preserving not only the spirit but the appearance of Cabinet solidarity. Collective responsibility is associated with cognate principle of Cabinet secrecy. Disclosures of Cabinet discussions plague the Government and bring into open a Cabinet split. A Cabinet split as Jennings says, may become a party split and a party split may lose the next election.

The idea of collective responsibility, first developed in the eighteenth century as a protection for Ministers against the King, and then it grew as a device for maintaining the strength and unity of the party. In 1782, there occurred the first instance of the collective resignation of a Ministry, when Lord North resigned in anticipation of a certain parliamentary defeat.

All his Ministers, with the one exception of the Lord Chancellor, resigned with him. Following this, Pitt did a great deal to develop conventions relating to collective responsibility and by 1832, it was well-recognized. But the concept of responsible government, that the Government should resign if it lost the confidence of Parliament, appears not to have been introduced into British political debates until as late as 1829, and then in relation to Canada rather than Britain.

After the Reform Act, 1882, it came to be regarded as axiomatic that the Government mug respond to a Parliamentary defeat on a major issue. Peel resigned in 1835 saying that he considered that the Government ought not to Persis in carrying on public affairs in opposition to the decided opinion of a majority of the House of Commons.

Since then, collective responsibility of the Cabinet to Parliament has become a cardinal feature of British politics. The last instances where a single Minister resigned on-an adverse vote of the House of Commons were those of Lowe in 1864, and Lord Chancellor Westbury in 1366. It does not, however, mean that no Minister does resign individually if ever he incurs the wrath of Parliament or his public transactions prove highly unpopular with the public.

At an emergency session of Parliament on April 3, 1982 Mrs. Margaret Thatcher’s Government was subjected to fierce attack on Argentina’s occupation of Falkiand islands and the criticism was mainly directed against the Foreign Secretary, Lord Corrington, and Defense Secretary John Nott. The Labour Opposition leader. Michael Foot, described the Government’s conduct as the great betrayal of the trust reposed by the people of Falkland islands in Britain.

The Foreign Secretary, along with his two colleagues at the Foreign Office, Humphery Atkins and Richard Luce, as also the Defense Secretary, John Nott, owned the responsibility for the crisis and resigned. The resignation of Lord Corrington and his two colleagues at the Foreign Office. was accepted whereas the Prime Minister declined to accept Nott’s resignation. Mrs. Margerat Thatcher felt that the debacle over Falkland islands was not so much the fault of Nott as he was relying on the information supplied to him.

If the causes of complaint were an official discretion or misconduct on the part of a Minister, he would be asked to resign voluntarily before his conduct comes under fire and is forced out of office by a hostile vote in the House, J,H. Thomas was asked to resign in 1936 because of the leak| age in the budget. Sir Hugh Dalton, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to resign because of similar indiscretion.

Sir Samuel Hoare resigned in 1935 before the House could condemn his Italo-Ethiopian proposals. John Profumo, the War Secretary in the Macmillan Government, resigned because he had lied to the House of Commons in denying improper relations with the model, Christine Keeler. In a letter to the Prime. Minister, Profumo wrote, I have come to realize that by this deception, have been guilty of a grave misdemeanor.

It is not possible, says Herman Finer, to operate collective responsibility without a safety valve individual scapegoats, and he assigns two reasons for it. First, there are more departmental policies and it becomes unreal to impute responsibility to all of them jointly. Secondly, if a Cabinet could be overthrown every time on trivial matters or it involved some error on the part of an individual Minister and Parliament was not prepared to condone it, it may mean too many reorganizations of the Cabinet. It could not be tolerated, concludes Finer, in the British economic and social system, where a high degree of stability and continuity to policy is essential to the standard of living and the peace of mind of the population.

If the question were on policy, then, the Government would, save in very exceptional cases, assume the responsibility of that policy, treating a hostile vote as a vote of no confidence in itself. Ogg and Zink graphically sum up this – aspect of ministerial responsibility. When a Minister either because of this own action or because of actions of a subordinate for which he is responsible falls into such predicament, he is not left by his colleagues merely to sink or swim while they look on from the distant shore.

Either they jump in and push him under, or they haul him into their boat and accept his fate as their own; in other words, they repudiate him and throw him out before his trouble drags him down or they rally to his support and make common cause with him. The latter course is pursued far more frequently than the former so much so that Cabinet solidarity, and, therefore, collective responsibility may normally be taken for granted.

LS, Amery, a Cabinet Minister at various times between 1922 and 1945, puts it rather more succinctly, The essence of our Cabinet system, he says, is the collective responsibility of its members. All major decisions of policy are, or are supposed to be, those of the Cabinet as a whole. They are supported by speech and vote by all its members, and, indeed, by all the members of the Government in the wider sense of the world. The rejection or condemnation by Parliament of the action taken, upon them affects the Cabinet as a whole, and is followed, if the issue is one of sufficient importance, by its resignation.

The secrecy of Cabinet proceedings, originally based on the Privy Councillors oath and antecedent to collective responsibility, is in any case the natural correlative of that collective responsibility. It would obviously be impossible for ministers to make an effective defense in public of decisions with which it was known that they had disagreed in the course of Cabinet discussion.

Birch, however, is of the opinion that while the doctrine of collective responsibility remains unchanged, its practical importance has been greatly reduced with the diminution of Parliamentary power as a result of the growth of party discipline. The idea underlying the doctrine of collective responsibility, he maintains, is that the government should be held continuously accountable for its actions, so that it always faces the possibility that a major mistake may result in a withdrawal of Parliamentary support. In the modern British political system it does not happen.

A major blunder in the policy of the Government may lead to an immediate and sharp swing in the public opinion, but the Government thrives upon its Parliamentary majority and firmly holds on to office. The Government, thus, gets an sample opportunity to recapture public support before the next general election is held. The Labour Government of 1945-50 survived through the fuel crisis of 1947, the collapse of its Palestine Policy in 1948, and the fiasco of the ground-nuts scheme in 1949. In 1950 it was returned to power, though with a reduced majority. The Conservative Government of 1955-59 succeeded not only in surviving after the debacle of Suez, but winning an increased majority at the next election.

Birch, therefore, concludes that the doctrine of collective responsibility does not occupy the place in the present political system that is commonly claimed for it. A crisis that would have brought down a Government a hundred years ago now acts as an opportunity for its Parliamentary supporters to give an impressive display of party loyalty, and stimulates its leaders to hold on to the reins of power until public attention is diverted to a sphere of policy which puts the Government in a more favorable light. It, no doubt, ensures common front, but in the zeal to maintain it, the traditional sanctity which collective responsibility carried with it does not exist any more.

According to the new usage of responsibility, a government is acting responsibly, not when it submits to Parliamentary control but when it takes effective measures to dominate it. If ever it permits members, as it did in 1936, on the question of capital punishment and in 1959, on the Street Offenses Bill, a free vote, the Government is accused of evading responsibility.

Secrecy and Party Solidarity:-

The Cabinet is a secret body collectively responsible for its decisions. It deliberates in secret and its proceedings are highly confidential. The secrecy of Cabinet proceedings is safeguarded by law and convention. The Privy Councillors Oath imposes an obligation not to disclose Cabinet secrets. The Official Secrets Act of 1920, forbids communication to unauthorized persons of official documents and in formation and provides legal penalties for disclosures made as such. But the effective sanction is neither of these two.

The rule is primarily one of practice. Its theoretical basis is that a Cabinet decision is advice to the King and the monarch sanction Is necessary before its publication. Its practical foundation is The necessity of securing free discussion by which a compromise can be reached, without the risk of publicity for every statement made and every point given away.

There must be, as Lord Salisbury said, irresponsible license in discussion, if mature, rational independent contribution to the process of policy making is desired from men who are engaged in a common cause and who come together for the purpose of reaching an agreement. It is, there fore, essential that Ministers deliberating in a Cabinet meeting should speak freely and frankly,toss their thoughts across the table, make tentative propositions and withdraw them when the difficulties are pointed out, express their doubts without reserve, discuss personalities as well as principles.

This kind of discussion cannot be conducted in the public. Nor can anybody express his opinions without reserve if he knows that it is likely to be quoted in Parliament or in the press. Publicity reduces the independence of mind of Ministers in relation to each other and harmony of views becomes impossible if there is a chance that whatever they speak will be broadcast.

Moreover, a knowledge of divergence of opinion offers vulnerable points to the attacks of the Opposition which is always on its toes to plague the party in power. Secrecy is of special urgency in these days of high nationalism and warlike friction between impassioned nations so that the Cabinet’s state of mind may not be made the subject of distracted and inflammatory debate until it has arrived at a considered policy.

Secrecy is, thus, an essential part of the Parliamentary system. Secrecy helps to produce political preliminary and political unanimity is a very important condition of party solidarity, which in its turn assists secrecy. Both help to concentrate responsibility on a single unit; the Cabinet, and since no exact discrimination appears before the real and supposed authors of a policy until long after the event, the more care has to be taken about the inclusion of people in the Cabinet, for no one may be included who is so incapable as to cause its better members to fall.

A difficulty obviously arises when a Minister or Ministers feel bound to resign as a result of serious Cabinet division. A Minister who resigns from the Cabinet usually desires to make an explanation in Parliament. Since this involves an explanation of Cabinet discussion, the Minister concerned must secure the permission of the King through the Prime Minister,and it is always given. But the Minister’s right is limited to the explanation of the circumstances which led to his resignation.

It gives no license to make further disclosure? He must not disclose other occasions on which he differed from the rest of the Cabinet. This is an important precaution. Usually the issue on which a Cabinet Minister resigns is not an isolated incident. It is the culmination of a series, of disagreements, the straw which broke the camel’s back.

If he gives a long history of disagreements the other members must disclose why they disagreed with him and much he procedure of the Cabinet will inevitably come into public discussion. Such discussion is not merely unfortunate for the party power, it is desirable in the public interest, for if there is a risk that his remarks will be discussed, no Minister will be able to speak freely and frankly.

Some other means also exist by which more or less reliable information respecting views expressed or decisions taken often get out after are few Cabinet meetings, observes Laski, i which the modem Press is not a semi-participant. During the War of 1914-18, the representatives of the press were able to secure information from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in the Garden suburb.

Since then the Prime Minister or some other Minister, on his behalf, gives to the press a guarded statement, in order to promote opinion about the policy they intended to pursue. Professor Laski makes a bold statement when he says, and there have been fewer Cabinets still in which some member has not been in fairly confidential relations with one eminent journalist or another. Revelations also occasionally appear in writings -of former Cabinet Ministers, especially when in a Cabinet crisis like that of 1931, Ministers are keen to have their position and the stand they took clarified.

Down to the time of the First World War no record was kept of matters discussed or actions taken in the Cabinet meetings. The taking of notes other than by the Prime Minister was long forbidden. The Ministers would simply indicate to their Departments what the decisions were if they could remember what exactly concerned their Departments. This system of Cabinet proceedings, however, completely broke down under the stress of War and one of the first acts of Lloyd George was to institute a Cabinet Secretariat to organist the business of the War Cabinet.

The Machinery of Government Committee mi 1918 recommended that the Secretariat should be permanently maintained for a purpose of collecting and putter into shape agenda, or providing the information and the material necessary for its deliberations, and of drawing up the result for communication to the departments concerned. In 1922, Bonar Law desired to abolish it, but its utility by then had been clearly established and it was decided to continue with it though its functions were narrowly defined.

Cabinet records are strictly confidential and no formal reports of proceedings are published. Great care is taken to ensure the secrecy of the Cabinet minutes. The Secretary to the Cabinet has instructions that while drafting minutes he should avoid reference to opinions expressed by any individual member and to limit the minutes as narrowly as possible to the actual decision agreed to. The minimum staff is employed in the reproduction of the minutes and all notes are destroyed as they are transcribed. Then, the copies arc sealed immediately in special envelopes addressed to the Ministers, and law officers entitled to receive them. Theses envelopes are locked in the Cabinet boxes and delivered by special messengers. A record copy is kept in the Cabinet office under the immediate control of the Secretary.

Relationship with the Monarch:-

One of the important powers of the Queen is to give her advice to the Cabinet and Prime Minister. She can correspond with and summon for consultation the prime minister as well as other ministers and even opposition leaders. The ministers patiently listen to her views and are influenced by them. MacDonald was influenced by the suggestions of the monarch to such an extent that he betrayed his own Party losing its sympathy and leadership. The Queen remains in constant touch with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and her influence on British foreign policy ts not negligible. She not only meets members of the cabinet but can hold consultation with the opposition leaders. George V participated in this type of conspiracy against the ruling Labour Party in 1931.

The monarch maintains close relationship with Defense Ministries and exercises influence in the appointments of senior military officers. When some military officers were threatening a civil war in 1914 on the question of freedom for Ireland, the king was considered a patron of these conspirators who were ready to resist the grant of home rule to the Irish people even by violence. That is why Dr. Jennings thought that the monarch is one of the most forceful members of the Cabinet, the weight of whose authority may ultimately impose a decision on the British government.

The Cabinet’s relationship with the monarch remains shrouded in mystery. The public cannot know it during the reign of a particular monarch. Publication of records after the death of Queen Victoria, or Edward VII, of even George V have shown how they were constantly pressing their cabinets to accept their views on such significant issues as division of Ireland, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Labour Cabinet’s policies towards Egypt and India, formation of the National government in 1931 etc. Roger Fulford suggests that George VI opposed the appointment of Dalton to head the Foreign Affairs Ministry and prevailed upon Attlee to give the job to Conservative Bevin in 1945.

When the official biography of George VI is published, it may confirm the guess that he exerted the same pressure for the partition of India in 1947 with Churchill’s support and Lord Mountbatten’s complicity, who was related to him as his father, George V, did for the division of Ireland with Tory connivance. Those documents, which may enable us to evaluate the role of George VI in giving a reactionary orientation to the foreign policy of the Labour Government of 1945-51 are still not available for research. Similarly the actual nature of Elizabeth II, relationship with her cabinets cannot be fully known in her life-time.

The monarchy, as Laski says, is greatly eulogised by conservative writers on the British constitution. This is because he or she, due to his or her social upbringing, has natural preference for the conservative values and ideals, For conservative cabinet, the Queen’s weight in politics today amounts to a fragrant flower, but a Labour cabinet should be ready to receive her affectionate scoldings and pinpricks. If a really progressive Socialist government ever came to power in England determined to push an anti capitalist programme into a action, it will probably encounter stiff resistance from the queen.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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