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Question 22. The Uk executive powers and bodies. "Cabinet government", its meaning, strength and weakness. The growing role of the Cabinet.

Traditionally, the British government is based on the Cabinet principle which means that out of the hundred of ministers, the 20 or so senior ministers are invited by the Prime Minister to form the Cabinet. The principle also means that the position of the Prime Ministers is that of `first among equals`. Among the 20 Cabinet ministers (the number can vary) in 1999 there were the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Minister of Defence, Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the Secretary of Trade and Industry and the Secretary of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The Cabinet presided by the Prime Minister, usually meets for a few hours once a week in the Prime Minister’s Office at 10 Downing Street. The Cabinet meets in private and its proceedings are secret (its members are bound by an oath not to disclose information about them).

The Cabinet’s functions are to make the main decisions about government policy as well as to exercise supreme control over and to coordinate government departments. There are many cabinet committees, some permanent and meeting regularly, others set up to deal with special problems. Each of these committees includes ministers from relevant departments. The Prime Ministers decides who is to be in each committee, what each one has to do, and what matters are included in the full cabinet’s agenda; he also has informal meetings with one or two ministers alone.

These arrangements are made necessary by the complexity of modern government, but they also increase the Prime Minister’s personal influence. This authority is also helped by the Prime Minister’s power to appoint all ministers, and to dismiss any of them at any time. Only one member of Mrs. Thatcher’s cabinet of 1979 was still there in September 1990 – and he then left too. Most had been dismissed or had resigned because of disagreements. Secretaries of State have so much to do in there own departments (not forgetting their work as MPs for their constituencies) that they cannot easily find time to think deeply about government policy as a whole. Because of this the Prime Minister is further strengthened by television, which tends to personalize politics.

The Prime Minister’s other responsibilities include informing the Queen during the weekly audience of the general policies and business of the government; recommending a number of the appointments to the Queen such as Church of the England archbishops, bishops and deans, senior judges, Privy Councillors and Lord-Lieutenants. They also include certain civil appointments, such as Poet Laureate, Constable of the Tower, some university posts; and appointments, such as chairmanship of nationalized industries, the BBC and various boards.

As the Prime Minister has great power within the British system of government, there are arguments that the office has become like an all-powerful presidency. It is partially true, as there seems to be a greater emphasis upon prime ministerial government rather than on the traditional constitutional notions of Cabinet collectively initiates and decides government policy. It also has control of the government apparatus and ministries because it is composed of members of the majority party in the Commons. Still, the popular convention that Government rule is Cabinet rule seems to have become much weaker. Since it is the Prime Minister who is responsible for Cabinet agendas and the control of Cabinet proceedings, the Cabinet itself can become merely a `rubber-stamp` to policies which have already been decided upon by the Prime Minister, or by a smaller group (sometimes called the Inner Cabinet).

Much depends on the personality of the Prime Minister in this situation. Some are strong and like to take the lead. Others have given the impression of being able to work within a traditional Cabinet structure.

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