United Kingdom cabinet committee



British government ga, Rialtas a Shoilse gd, Riaghaltas a Mhòrachd , image = HM Government logo.svg , image_size = 220px , image2 = Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg , image_size2 = 180px , caption = Royal Arms , date_es ...
is directed by the Cabinet, a group of senior government ministers led by the Prime Minister. Most of the day-to-day work of the Cabinet is carried out by Cabinet committees, rather than by the full Cabinet. Each committee has its own area of responsibility, and their decisions are binding on the entire Cabinet.The Cabinet Manual: a guide to laws, conventions and rules on the operation of government
(Cabinet Office, October 2011)
The details of the committee structure and membership are at the discretion of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is free to reorganize committees, assign responsibilities, and can appoint or dismiss committee members freely. The sole limitation is the requirement that Cabinet ministers must be sworn members of the
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, since the Cabinet itself is a committee of the Privy Council. Although there have been many changes since the Cabinet committee system was first developed in the early twentieth century, the committees for foreign and military policy, domestic policy, economic policy, and the government's legislative agenda have been more or less permanent fixtures. These and many other committees are ''standing committees'', which have a broad remit; others are ''ad hoc committees'', which are established to deal with specific matters. Ad hoc committees are rarer now than throughout most of the twentieth century. Many matters are now expected to be resolved bilaterally between departments, or through more informal discussion, rather than requiring the formation of a committee. The 2015 government introduced "Implementation Taskforces" to address specific cross-cutting priorities. These are to report to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Cabinet approval is still required if collective agreement is needed. When the Prime Minister is unable to attend Cabinet or the chair and any deputy chair of a Cabinet committee are absent, the next most senior minister in the ministerial ranking should take the chair.

Committee procedure

Committee membership is limited to ministers, but non-ministers may attend in some cases.Cabinet Committee Membership Lists (6 November 2012)
/ref> In particular, the
National Security Council A national security council (NSC) is usually an executive branch governmental body responsible for coordinating policy on national security issues and advising chief executives on matters related to national security. An NSC is often headed by a n ...
is routinely attended by senior military, intelligence and security officials. Members of the Prime Minister's office – including the Prime Minister themselves – may attend any committee. The Prime Minister's attendance does not mean that they will chair the committee, despite being the most senior Cabinet member present, though they may choose to do so. In the 2010 coalition government, each Cabinet committee included members of both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. Furthermore, the general pattern was for committees to have a chair and a deputy chair, one from each party. There was a Coalition Committee, and an operational working group, to handle appeals over coalition disputes and to plan future policy.Cabinet Committee Membership Lists (17 February 2012)
/ref> Former committees with non-ministers as full members include the Economic Advisory Council, whose membership was made up of a combination of ministers and experts in economics. The
Committee of Imperial Defence The Committee of Imperial Defence was an important ''ad hoc'' part of the Government of the United Kingdom and the British Empire from just after the Second Boer War until the start of the Second World War. It was responsible for research, and so ...
, a parallel Cabinet for military policy which existed from 1904 until 1939, included ministers, heads of the armed services, and civil servants. Between 1997 and 2001, there was a Ministerial Consultative Committee with the Liberal Democratic Party which included senior Liberal Democrats as well as Labour ministers. Until 1992, the list of cabinet committees, their membership, and their terms of reference were secret, with rare exceptions. During the Second World War, details of the War Cabinet structure were communicated to Parliament;
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman, soldier, and writer who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, from 1940 to 1945 during the Second World War, and again from 1 ...
had previously announced a Standing Committee on National Expenditure in his 1925
Budget A budget is a calculation play, usually but not always financial, for a defined period, often one year or a month. A budget may include anticipated sales volumes and revenues, resource quantities including time, costs and expenses, environmenta ...
statement. The existence and membership of the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee was announced in 1963, coinciding with the amalgamation of the service ministries into a single
Ministry of Defence {{unsourced, date=February 2021 A ministry of defence or defense (see spelling differences), also known as a department of defence or defense, is an often-used name for the part of a government responsible for matters of defence, found in stat ...
Margaret Thatcher Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (; 13 October 19258 April 2013) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She was the first female British prime ...
confirmed the continuing existence of this committee in the House of Commons in 1979, along with standing committees for Economic Strategy, Home and Social Affairs, and Legislation. The secrecy was due to the concern that public knowledge of Cabinet procedure would lead to a loss of faith in collective responsibility (if it became known that only a subset of the Cabinet had been involved in making a given decision) and undue pressure being put on committee chairs once their specific policy responsibilities became known. Whether decisions were made by the entire Cabinet, or by a committee, is not revealed at present. Cabinet committees are shadowed by "official committees" made up of civil servants from the relevant departments. Official committees follow a thirty-year secrecy rule with respect to their existence and membership.

Committees with special functions

Most committees exist for the coordination of policy in some specific area. Some committees, however, have a special role in managing government business, and accordingly have different procedures. The Public Expenditure Committee (PEX) plays a central role in the allocation of government money to departments. It originated in 1981 under the informal title of "Star Chamber" as an ad hoc committee (MISC 62) which could handle appeals over spending disputes, rather than having these be dealt with by the full Cabinet. An appeal to Cabinet was still possible, but this right was rarely exercised. The original name refers to the
Star Chamber The Star Chamber ( Latin: ''Camera stellata'') was an English court that sat at the royal Palace of Westminster, from the late to the mid-17th century (c. 1641), and was composed of Privy Counsellors and common-law judges, to supplement the jud ...
court noted for its secret, arbitrary and brutal decisions. The committee was made permanent under
John Major Sir John Major (born 29 March 1943) is a British former politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997, and as Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon, formerly Huntin ...
, under the name "EDX", and placed under the chairmanship of the
Chancellor of the Exchequer The chancellor of the Exchequer, often abbreviated to chancellor, is a senior minister of the Crown within the Government of the United Kingdom, and head of His Majesty's Treasury. As one of the four Great Offices of State, the Chancellor i ...
. From 1998 to 2010 the same committee (by then called "PX", and later "PSX") also monitored departments' fulfillment of Public service agreements. While such agreements are no longer used, the committee retains its role in examining departmental expenditure, and will advise Cabinet on the allocation each department is to receive. The Legislation committee allocates time for government bills to be considered in Parliament, coordinates the writing and handling of these bills in general, and is responsible for the Queen's Speech. Previously, there had been two committees, one for considering future legislation and another to deal with bills during their passage through Parliament. Departments who wish to make new primary legislation must apply to the committee for a slot in the legislative programme, as well as obtaining clearance from the relevant policy committee. In an emergency, the National Security Council (Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies) subcommittee can meet in an operational configuration. This arrangement was previously named as the Civil Contingencies Committee. In this case, the chair is taken by the minister for whichever government department is the "lead" for the emergency in question. That subcommittee however has disestablished as of 2021.

''Ad hoc'' committees

During the post-Second World War period, in addition to standing committees, there were ''ad hoc'' committees that were convened to handle a single issue. These were normally short-lived. Each was given a prefix of Gen or Misc and a number. Gen 183, for example, was the Committee on Subversive Activities. Between 1945 and 1964, Gen (for general) committees were sequentially numbered from 1 to 881 in order of formation.

Cabinet papers

Committee minutes and papers follow the same secrecy rules as for the full Cabinet. Documents are generally handled on a need-to-know basis, and so may not be available to ministers who do not serve on the relevant committee. Some materials may be classified as being available exclusively to the named members of the committee, and particularly sensitive papers may be kept in a secure room and read only under supervision. Papers may be distributed physically or electronically (via the Government Secure Intranet). Notes taken at meetings for the purpose of preparing the official minutes are destroyed once the minutes have been written. The minutes do not generally link points made in discussion to the specific people who made them. Future governments may not be permitted to see the cabinet papers of their predecessors, if there has been a change of party. Access in this case requires the approval of the former Prime Minister, or of the
Leader of the Opposition The Leader of the Opposition is a title traditionally held by the leader of the largest political party not in government, typical in countries utilizing the parliamentary system form of government. The leader of the opposition is typically se ...
. The few exceptions relate to papers of an expressly non-political nature, such as legal advice or international agreements. Retired ministers wishing to write their memoirs are given access to papers from their tenure, but are usually not allowed to borrow them from the Cabinet Office archive.

Current committees

This table follows the document issued by the Cabinet Office in September 2022.

Non-Cabinet committees

There are several committees for which the Cabinet Office is administratively responsible, but which are not Cabinet committees. These include the various 'official' committees, which mostly shadow the Cabinet committees but with civil servants rather than ministers as members. Some others are: * In the first years of the 2010 coalition government, the Coalition Operation and Strategic Planning Group (described as a "working group", rather than a full committee) was to "consider and resolve issues relating to the operation of the coalition agreement, the longer term strategic planning of Government Business and to report as necessary to the Coalition Committee". Its functions were later taken over by the 'Quad' meetings attended by
David Cameron David William Donald Cameron (born 9 October 1966) is a British former politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2005 to 2016. He previously served as Leader ...
Nick Clegg Sir Nicholas William Peter Clegg (born 7 January 1967) is a British media executive and former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who has been president for global affairs at Meta Platforms since 2022, having previously been vicepre ...
George Osborne George Gideon Oliver Osborne (born Gideon Oliver Osborne; 23 May 1971) is a former British politician and newspaper editor who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2010 to 2016 and as First Secretary of State from 2015 to 2016 in the ...
, and
Danny Alexander Sir Daniel Grian Alexander (born 15 May 1972) is a former politician who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury between 2010 and 2015. He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency from 2005 ...
, with support from political aides and civil servants. * The Joint Intelligence Committee is an official committee that directs and oversees the UK intelligence and security agencies. * The Joint Ministerial Committee consists of ministers and officials from the UK and devolved administrations. Its secretariat is provided by the Cabinet Office but it is not a Cabinet committee. * The Permanent Secretaries Management Group and Civil Service Steering Board are committees of the senior civil service, housed within the Cabinet Office.

Historical statistics

An approximate count of committees up to and during the Second World War was given by Wilson as follows. This excludes committees which did not have at least one meeting (several of these existed solely as a means for documents to be circulated among the members). The 1939-45 figures do not include the Joint Intelligence Committee, Joint Planning Staff, or the
Combined Chiefs of Staff The Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) was the supreme military staff for the United States and Britain during World War II. It set all the major policy decisions for the two nations, subject to the approvals of British Prime Minister Winston Churc ...

See also

Cabinet Office The Cabinet Office is a department of His Majesty's Government responsible for supporting the prime minister and Cabinet. It is composed of various units that support Cabinet committees and which co-ordinate the delivery of government obje ...
* Lord President's Committee * Gen 75 Committee



External links

Cabinet Office – List of Cabinet Committees
{{DEFAULTSORT:United Kingdom Cabinet Committee Government of the United Kingdom Cabinet Office (United Kingdom)