How does the UK Cabinet work?
The Cabinet is a group of about 20 senior Ministers who meet every Tuesday, and more often if there is a pressing issue to discuss. The Prime Minister decides who will be in the Cabinet but it is accepted that all the Ministers who run Departments are Cabinet Members, as is the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House, the Minister who looks after Government Business in the Commons. The Chair of the Conservative or Labour Party may also be a member.
The Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary, who is the most senior civil servant, draw up the Agenda. The Cabinet Office, staffed by civil servants, prepares papers for the Cabinet, coordinates issue that cut across Government Departments and looks to see that Cabinet decisions are carried out.
Cabinet meetings will discuss:-
- Proposals for legislation and whether there will be any problems getting it through the House of Commons
- Major issues especially if they cut across the responsibilities of different Ministers
- Briefings from the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister on foreign policy and European issues and from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the economy.
- Decisions from Cabinet Committees which are made up of smaller groups of Ministers and do detailed work on topics. Cabinet Ministers will normally see the decisions of these Committees but will not discuss them in Cabinet unless they are very controversial.
- Political strategy in a meeting as the Political Cabinet, without civil servants present, such as how to counter the Opposition or improve Government popularity or whether politically difficult policies, such as the proposed welfare cuts, are viable.
- Emergencies such as floods or a terrorist attack by meeting as COBRA with the relevant Minsters and the Prime Minister present.
As well as the weekly meetings, Cabinet is best thought of as a system. There are a range of meetings between the Prime Minister and one or two Ministers, and Ministers will keep in touch with each other over issues and meet if necessary. Officials at No 10 and the Cabinet Office will be in contact with Cabinet Ministers to make sure that there is overall agreement on a course of action that might be controversial.