Cabinet Manual - Public Administration Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

A written constitution?

1.  The draft Manual sets out to chronicle current procedure in government based on statute, convention and other rules and practices. No objective analysis can construe this document to be the start of a written constitution. (Paragraph 7)

Clarity of objectives

2.  We recommend that the Cabinet Office should explore the possibility of disaggregating these three elements within the Manual in a way which will demarcate the particular functions of each section. The Cabinet Manual should be focussed on becoming a comprehensive and authoritative reference work for civil servants to advise their ministers. The educative and polemical elements should be an incidental consideration. (Paragraph 12)

3.  The name Cabinet Manual, in the context of what is primarily intended to be a consolidation of guidance materials for the Executive, is potentially misleading and certainly a misnomer. Its title should be changed to better reflect its contents and objectives. . (Paragraph 14)

Single source of information

4.  We recognise that personal information about individuals should not be subject to publication; particularly where there is no longer an overriding public interest in its disclosure. However, given that Cabinet Secretaries have gone on to draw lessons to inform current practice from this information we see a strong case for an appropriately edited or redacted version of the Precedent Book to be made publicly available. At a minimum we recommend that the draft Cabinet Manual should credit material which derives from the Precedent Book. (Paragraph 21)

Source material

5.  If the Cabinet Manual is to achieve its stated ambition to be an authoritative guide to how government works it will have to properly reference its sources of authority. (Paragraph 28)

6.  We recommend that the Cabinet Manual should be accompanied by a second volume modelled on the Directory of Civil Service Guidance or the Precedent Book which, progressively, should come to consolidate conventions, guidance and other rules and practices in a more comprehensive and detailed fashion as a functional handbook for civil servants. (Paragraph 30)

The status of the information

7.  Large parts of the draft Manual rest on conventions and other practices which have no statutory basis. However, a significant minority of the draft Manual is based on statute and common law of some kind. To that extent, the practice described in the draft Manual will be prescriptive. We recommend that the Cabinet Manual should distinguish more clearly between the different categories of information which are contained in the text. This will make explicit the fact that its various provisions are not in any way endowed with equivalent political, constitutional or legal equivalence. (Paragraph 33)

Established convention versus new practice

8.  The Manual should be more explicit about new practices introduced by an incumbent administration. If it does not do so there is a risk that the Manual will level out the status and value of established conventions as distinct from new practices and endow them with equal status.. (Paragraph 37)

Contested practices

9.  Excluding elements which are in some way contested would diminish the scope and value of the draft Manual. However, it should not be assumed that inclusion in the Manual should be taken to mean that it represents settled practice. It will be particularly important for officials to be alerted to possible controversy in particular areas. The Cabinet Manual should ensure that conventions and practices which do or may give rise to contention in their application should be appropriately flagged in the document. (Paragraph 42)

New Zealand and evolution

10.  We expect the UK version of the Cabinet Manual will evolve in form and content over time. As the New Zealand precedent shows, guidance becomes more useful in times of political uncertainty or controversy. The draft chapter on the formation of government has amply demonstrated that in this country. We would expect that in future other events may call into question different parts of the Cabinet Manual which will need to be tested against the circumstances prevailing at that time and adjusted accordingly. (Paragraph 45)

Revising the manual

11.  In our view a major revision of the Cabinet Manual will inevitably have to follow a general election as a result of re-issue of the Ministerial Code, machinery of government changes and related questions about the organisation of government. A revised hard copy edition at this point is likely to coincide with the most significant period of reform to government practices during the lifetime of a Parliament. (Paragraph 48)


12.  The Cabinet Manual, as a guide to government practice, should be left to officials to update and to review at regular intervals as chroniclers and record keepers—subject to proper and regular consultation. It should not be for the Cabinet to approve or endorse it but it will be for ministers to decide how far they can and should take account of the precedents in the Manual. (Paragraph 52)

13.  We welcome the dialogue through which the Cabinet Secretary has sought to engage the relevant select committees of Parliament in his consultation over the draft Cabinet Manual. It is a dialogue we wish to see continue as the document evolves. It will also provide Parliament with a useful means by which to scrutinise good practice and the standard of our public administration. However, we do not consider that it is appropriate for Parliament to seek to endorse what is a guidance document for ministers and civil servants. (Paragraph 54)

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 1 April 2011