This chapter is designed to provide you with some general information about the purpose of Cabinet and its Committees. It also explains the principle of collective responsibility.
The Cabinet reconciles Ministers' individual responsibilities with their collective responsibility. It is the ultimate arbiter of all Government policy.
Underneath Cabinet sits a structure of Cabinet Committees , some of which have Sub-Committees. Cabinet Committees have two key purposes.
More broadly, Cabinet Committees provide a framework for collective consideration of, and decisions on, major policy issues and questions of significant public interest. They ensure that issues that are of interest to more then one Department are properly discussed and that the views of all relevant Ministers are considered.
The business of Cabinet and Cabinet Committees is mainly made up of the following subjects.
Government is a large and complex organisation. Like others, it needs formal and informal mechanisms for discussing issues, building consensus, taking decisions, resolving disputes and chasing progress.
Cabinet and Cabinet Committees are the only groups formally empowered to taking binding decisions. They also provide a formal mechanism for the other four purposes.
Cabinet and Cabinet Committees consist of Ministers, because only Ministers, accountable to Parliament, can take binding decisions, though others may be invited to attend.
At best, a Cabinet or Cabinet Committee decision is more than the sum of its parts. Bringing the different knowledge and perspectives of departments, and the varying judgement and experience of Ministers, together enables Ministers to arrive at a much better outcome than would be possible for any one Secretary of State. At a minimum, a decision is an acceptable compromise.
Collective responsibility allows Ministers to express their views frankly in discussion, in the expectation that they can maintain a united front once a decision has been reached. Opinions expressed in Cabinet and Cabinet Committees are therefore non-attributable.
Issues need to be brought to Cabinet or more likely a Committee if they are inter-departmental or if they a sufficiently significant to require collective sign off as a result of the doctrine of collective responsibility. The two categories overlap but are distinct.
However this requires time. There is a trade off between the consequent delay and the overlapping benefits of better decision making and the doctrinal requirements. So 'big' decisions are taken collectively but many small decisions are taken within a single department, sometimes having consulted just the others with a direct interest.
Members of the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not bound by the collective responsibility which applies solely to members of the UK Government.
Members of the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not bound by the collective responsibility which applies solely to members of the UK Government and are not members of Cabinet Committees, though they may be invited to attend.
For details of current Cabinet Committees and Sub-Committees, their membership and terms of reference, please refer to the full list of Cabinet Committees.
For more information on the different types of Cabinet Committee, please read the section called Types of Committee.