Cabinet of the United Kingdom
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|Type||Committee of the Privy Council|
|Jurisdiction||Government of the United Kingdom|
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The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the senior decision-making body of the Government of the United Kingdom. A committee of the Privy Council, it is chaired by the prime minister and its members include secretaries of state and other senior ministers.
The Ministerial Code says that the business of the Cabinet (and cabinet committees) is mainly questions of major issues of policy, questions of critical importance to the public and questions on which there is an unresolved argument between departments.
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Until at least the 16th 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 constituted the only co-ordinating authorities. In England, phrases such as "cabinet counsel", meaning advice given in private, in a cabinet 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 in his Essays (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 began a formal "Cabinet Council" from his accession in 1625, as his Privy Council, or "private council", 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 practices.
The modern Cabinet system was set up by Prime Minister David Lloyd George during his premiership, 1916–1922, with a Cabinet Office and Secretariat, committee structures, unpublished minutes, and a clearer relationship with departmental Cabinet ministers. The formal procedures, practice and proceedings of the Cabinet remain largely unpublished.[citation needed
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, 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". The country went through successive crises after the war: the 1926 United Kingdom general strike; the Great Depression of 1929–32; the rise of Bolshevism after 1917 and Fascism after 1922; the Spanish Civil War 1936 onwards; the invasion of Abyssinia 1936; the League of Nations Crisis which followed; and the re-armament and resurgence of Germany from 1933, leading into another World War. All these demanded a highly organised and centralised Government centred on the Cabinet.
The total number of Cabinet ministers who are entitled to a salary is capped at 21, plus the lord chancellor, who is paid separately. Some ministers may be designated as also attending Cabinet, like the attorney general, as "...it has been considered more appropriate, in recent times at any rate, that the independence and detachment of his office should not be blurred by his inclusion in a political body – that is to say the Cabinet – which may have to make policy decisions upon the basis of the legal advice the law officers have given."
Members of the Cabinet are by convention chosen from members of the two houses of Parliament, as the Peel convention dictates that ministers may only be recruited from the House of Commons or the House of Lords, although this convention has been broken in the past for short periods. Patrick Gordon Walker is perhaps the most notable exception: he was appointed to the Cabinet despite losing his seat in the 1964 election, and resigned from Cabinet after running and losing in a by-election in January 1965. Sometimes, when a minister from neither House is appointed, they have been granted a customary peerage. The Cabinet is now made up almost entirely of members of the House of Commons.
It has been suggested that the modern Cabinet is too large, including by former Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill and scholars Robert Hazell and Rodney Brazier. Robert Hazell has suggested merging the offices of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales into one Secretary of State for the Union, in a department into which Rodney Brazier has suggested adding a minister of state for England with responsibility for English local government.
Meetings of the cabinet
Despite the custom of meeting on a Thursday, after the appointment of Gordon Brown, the meeting day was switched to Tuesday. However, when David Cameron became prime minister, he held his cabinet meetings on Thursdays again. Upon Theresa May's ascension, she switched the cabinet meetings back to Tuesday.
The length of meetings varies according to the style of the prime minister and political conditions, but modern meetings can be as short as 30 minutes. Ministers are bound by the constitutional convention of collective ministerial responsibility.