The draft Cabinet Manual

The Cabinet Office has just published a draft Cabinet Manual, essentially an attempt to draw together the basic features of our constitutional arrangements.  Much of it is pretty basic – a Janet and John introduction to British Government – and it cannot make up its mind as to whether it is issued for information or guidance. 

An opening paragraph is quite remarkable:

‘… there has never been a single source of information on how the Government works and interacts with the Sovereign, Parliament, the judiciary, international organisations, the Devolved Administrations and local government.’

I know Whitehall mandarins are supposed to be a little detached, but has no senior civil servant ever set eyes on an introductory text on British politics?


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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12 Responses to The draft Cabinet Manual

  1. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    Committees can indeed be beautiful things. Let me put forward a hypothesis:
    1. Single author: “… a single authoritative official source…”
    Redactor deletes the whole thing
    2. SA: “…a single official source of this kind..””‘
    RD “a source of this kind”
    3. “a single source of this kind”
    Can be terribly lots of fun. If you were a multi-lingual polity then the real entertainment value comes in when five or so important official transaltions and the official original language must agree.

    • Lord Norton says:

      franksummers3ba: Quite so. The Manual does look as if it was written by a committee. Note the inconsistent use of footnotes – some with citations and other sections with no footnotes at all. It lacks the thoroughness of Erskine May.

  2. Carl.H says:

    “The Cabinet Manual is intended to be a source of information on the UK‟s laws, conventions and rules, including those of a constitutional nature, that affect the operation and procedures of government.”

    It`ll need tobe somewhat longer then.

    “The Cabinet Manual is intended to be of use to both audiences: it is primarily written to provide a guide for members of Cabinet, other ministers and Civil Servants.”

    So it`s true then ? Nobody really knew what they were doing until they got the manual.

    I`m glad it`s only a draft, sounds like LN will be writing a book of amendments to it ! Something else to do over xmas.

    This is below Janet & John this is Teletubbies.

    “1. The UK is a parliamentary democracy which has a constitutional sovereign as Head of State; a sovereign Parliament, which is supreme to all other government institutions, consisting of the Sovereign, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, an Executive drawn from and accountable to Parliament, and an independent judiciary.”

    “It is primarily written to provide a guide for members of Cabinet, other ministers and Civil Servants.”

    And they don`t know anything about our Parliamentary democracy ? If we said that !!

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: You encapsulate some of my thoughts. It is extremely worrying to think that ministers and civil servants need to be told ‘The Sovereign is the Head of State of the UK’. I know I achieved an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to provide that senior civil servants should have an awareness of the constitutional relationship between Parliament and the executive, but I am extremely concerned if they need to start at this level!

  3. Croft says:

    There seems a much more fundamental problem – authority. It was not sanctioned by parliament nor drawn up with proper/formal/open consultation of experts. The idea that civil servants can decide what is included is a central problem. The civil service are part of the process which hardly makes them independent in drawing such a document up.

    • Surely “Haynes” are the only ones expert and impartial enough to write a manual. Mind they will have to strip it completely down before they rebuild it ! 😉

    • Lord Norton says:

      Croft: I agree. This is one of the points I wish to pursue.

      • Croft says:

        I think I share you perhaps hinted earlier concern that this is ‘information’ but will in the way the civil service works transition to ‘guidance’ and then ‘rules’ without outside intervention.

        I’m sure there are as other have suggested perfectly good committees which could control this process and the structure the document.

  4. Howridiculous says:

    Dear Lord Norton,

    I hestitate to say that they clearly have not read ‘The British Polity’.

    I have looked at the Cabinet Manual only briefly and intend to read it properly in the coming days. I already have a few observations.

    It seems to be a vanity publishing project by Gus O’Donnell and a colossal waste of money at a time of public spending cuts.
    It seems to be a Constitution Manual rather than a Cabinet one.
    I’m not sure who it is aimed at but surely no minister or no senior civil servant should be in their jobs if they don’t already know the things that Sir Gus is putting together.
    It would be interesting to know how many civil servants have working on putting this together and how much time they have spent on it. It would also be interesting to know their grade.
    Allied to that, it would be interesting to know how much this draft has cost the tax-payer and how much the Government predict the final Manual will cost.
    I hope it is going to get a good deal of scrutiny from the relevant Select Committees and that there may be some debates on it both Houses.


    • Lord Norton says:

      Howridiculous: You may be interested to know that I have already tabled a question asking how much it cost to compile and publish the draft Manual. Other questions may follow.

  5. ladytizzy says:

    I have not read further than the first page and am already quite rattled.

    Although the foreword indictates that it has been written for an audience other than those directly involved in government, for that to hold true a consultation of just three months is preposterous. Mr O’D writes (in December 2010):

    Following consideration of any comments, I expect to invite Cabinet to endorse a revised version of the Cabinet Manual in the spring of 2011.

    It would seem that he expects a handful or so replies. More forward than foreword.

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